The Mets have a winning record. The Mets have been outscored. By a lot, relatively speaking. And as Michael Salfino points out in The Wall Street Journal, these facts probably won't coëxist much longer ...
The New York Mets are off to the most cognitively dissonant start in baseball.
In the standings, they look like a contender. Entering Monday, they were a surprising 22-19. But on the stat sheet—and we're not talking doctorate-level statistics here—they look overmatched. They've been outscored by 31 runs, the fifth-worst mark in baseball. Even the 15-25 Colorado Rockies (minus-27) have been better.
The Mets are on pace to finish 87-75 while being outscored by 122 runs. This would be a rather historic achievement...
Indeed, it would. As Salfino points out, no team with a run differential that poor has ever finished with a winning record. Let alone finished a dozen games to the good. You just can't do this for a whole season.
Well, you can. It's probably happened in the minor leagues at some point, and so it might happen someday in the majors. It's just exceptionally unlikely. The Mets will either improve their run differential significantly or they'll start losing more often. Losing a lot more often, probably. Salfino's right: the statistics on this one are pretty simple.
I'm not sure the Mets are off to the most cognitively dissonant start, though. Depends on your definition. Probably. Because they're winning when they should be losing. But purely in terms of the difference between run differentials and records, they're not alone. Essentially, they've won four more games than their run differential predicts.
The Orioles are also plus-4, while the Cardinals are minus-4. Considering that it's almost impossible to finish a season more than seven or eight games off your expected number, we certainly wouldn't expect those trends to continue, because in fact they're not really trends. They're flukes.
They're meaningful, in that they tell us something that the wins and losses might not. They're meaningless, in that the number of runs scored and allowed by a team over the course of 42 games can tell us only so much. They certainly tell us something ... but they'll tell us a lot more after 82 games, and 122 games, and 162 games. Even then, the numbers can fool us.
All of that said, how many big surprises are still left, just a quarter of the way into the season?
The Orioles? Yes, it's surprising they've outscored their opponents, even if by just a little.
The Twins? Yes, it's surprising they've got the run differential of a 14-27 team (and the 14-27 record of a 14-27 team).
The Cardinals? Yes. They've the run differential of a 27-15 team, which is surprising. Same for the Dodgers.
It's just amazing to me -- and yes, I know I made this point a few weeks ago -- how early in the season the numbers begin to make a fair amount of sense, to comport with our pre-season expectations. The race doesn't always go to the swift and the strong (according to pre-season projections). But that's the way to bet.