How the Miracle Mets Pulled Off Their Miracle
One of the most famous teams in major-league baseball history is the Miracle Mets of 1969. From 1962 through 1967, the New York Mets lost 120, 111, 109, 112, 95, and 101 games, respectively. The 1968 Mets improved somewhat, winning a franchise best 73 games (while still losing 89 games).
And then came 1969. The Mets won 100 games and the World Series!
How did they do it? How did the 1969 Mets win 27 more games than they did the year before?
This article attempts to answer that.
The first table below compares the 1968 and 1969 New York Mets.
As I noted, the 1969 Mets won 27 games more than they did in 1968. pWins tie to team wins, so the 1969 Mets earned approximately 27 more pWORL by construction.
On the other hand, eWins do not tie to team wins, but control for context. And, while the 1969 Mets earned 28.4 more pWORL than the 1968 Mets, they amassed only 4.4 more eWORL.
So, one part of the answer - almost certainly the largest part - to the question "How did the Miracle Mets do it?" was that they did a better job (and/or "were luckier") at converting their performance into wins. Note that this isn't some heretofore unknown revelation that Player won-lost records has just uncovered: the 1968 Mets had 77 Pythagorean wins while the '69 Mets had 92 - a solid, respectable 15-game improvement, but not the 27-game difference in actual wins. Baseball-Reference shows the 1968 Mets with 34.6 WAR, the '69 Mets with 41.1, a gap of only 6.5 wins (which is pretty damn close to the gap in eWORL). The 1968 Mets went 26-37 in 1-run games; the '69 Mets went 41-23 in such games.
All of that said, the 1968 Mets were a sub-.500 team - in actual results, Pythagorean record, and eWins over positional average (eWOPA) - and the 1969 Mets were over .500.
The next table looks at the key contributors to the 1968 Mets who were also on the 1969 Mets and compares their (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) Player won-lost records for the two years.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the previous table is that of the nine players listed, only one was older than 26 in 1968, Ed Charles, who was also one of only two of the nine players whose performance declined by more than 0.1 in 1969.
The next table shows players who were on the 1968 Mets but earned less than 1.0 eWORL who earned more than 1.0 eWORL for the 1969 Mets.
Two members of the 1968 Mets improved somewhat, from just below 1 eWORL to just above: Don Cardwell and Jim McAndrew. In McAndrew's case, the difference was mostly about playing time: the 25-year-old McAndrew appeared in just more than twice as many games (27) as the 24-year-old McAndrew had the year before (12).
Only one member of the 1968 Mets took a really dramatic step forward, as measured by (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) eWins: Tommie Agee. Like most of the players who have shown up so far, Agee was young enough - entering his age-26 season in 1969 - that significant improvement shouldn't have been completely unexpected. In Agee's case, he also had a previous track record of success, having been a slightly above-average center fielder for the Chicago White Sox in 1966 and 1967 at ages 23 and 24.
Finally, the next table shows members of the 1969 Mets who earned at least 0.5 eWORL who did not play at all for the 1968 Mets.
The Mets had four players who did not play at all for them in 1968 contribute at least 0.5 eWORL. Two of the four (Gentry and Dilauro) made their major-league debut in 1969. Tug McGraw also came up through the Mets minor-league system, having appeared previously for the Mets in 1965, '66, and '67, but not 1968.
The only addition the 1969 Mets made from outside of their organization for 1969 was platoon first baseman Donn Clendenon, who the Mets acquired from the Montreal Expos in mid-June. Clendenon filled his role well enough, but it's hard to see him as the final piece of the puzzle that was able to push the Mets over the top.
Tug McGraw is perhaps the quintessential 1969 Miracle Met. Like most of his teammates, Tug McGraw was a young guy who had come up through the Mets organization. In 1969, McGraw was 24 years old and just starting what turned out to be an excellent 19-year career. Overall, in 1969, National League batters hit .243/.329/.350 against McGraw, a batting line that was very similar to the overall National League average of .250/.319/.369. The result was the roughly league-average (context-neutral) Player won-lost record shown above.
Somehow, though, that league-average-ish batting line allowed by McGraw translated into a 2.24 ERA for McGraw - far better than league average (3.59) - and 12 saves without a single blown save. Which led to a much more valuable season for McGraw in context than out, as shown below.
So, how did the Mets do it? Three keys.
Nothing to it, right?
- Collect a Group of Good, Young Baseball Players
- None of Whom Have a Bad Season
- Add in a Generous Helping of "Clutch" and "Luck"
All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.
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