March 25, 2010
Over at BP, we might currently have the Mets projected to win just 78 games this year, but as with any projection, that's a forecast with some wiggle, or in the Mets' case, a lot of wiggle. That's because so much of what their premium talent might deliver on the basis of what it has delivered in the past makes it tough to peg them. Some of my colleagues argue that the Mets could win anywhere between 92 games and 72, and a big part of the reason why it could end up on either end of that range depends on their rotation. But does that hold up?
Take Johan Santana, former short-list candidate for best pitcher in baseball. Last year's injury-shortened season still generated 4.9 wins via Support-Neutral Lineup-adjusted Value Above Replacement (SNLVAR). That's good, but it was also a 3.4-win drop from his first season as a Met in 2008 (8.3), in no small part because of the nine starts he lost to a bum elbow. Our initial, baseline projection for Santana is conservative: 3.8 SNLVAR, 29 starts. Get a full season of 34 starts from him, and maybe that gets ratcheted up to 4.5—still conservative, and still not progress from last year.
The real wild cards are Oliver Perez and John Maine. Perez's career has veered from excellence to horror with a dash of the DL to make him one of the least-certain commodities in a major-league rotation. His SNLVAR value was above 4.0 in 2007 and 2008, and bottomed out at zero in last season's wild, injury-wracked campaign. PECOTA's projections for him anticipate a rebound less than halfway back, to 1.7; he's being paid to be the four-win pitcher the Mets need. Maine's fall from grace has been just as steep, a four-win drop from his 5.6 SNLVAR season in 2007 to 1.6 last year in 15 turns. Here again, PECOTA's shy about damaged goods, going for 2.3 wins as a baseline; pretend he gets to 32 starts again, and you might have a guy back up over 3.0.
For homegrown goodies, there's the hope that Mike Pelfrey might bounce back from a crummy sophomore campaign (2.3 SNLVAR) and repeat his rookie bust-out (5.6); he should regain some of that lost ground, but the more fundamental problem is that he'll need to beat his one-trick pony rep as the big man with the big sinker handicapped by weak off-speed stuff. He's been working on it in camp, but we'll have to see real-game results. In the fifth slot, Jon Niese seems to be the likely choice; his OK assortment doesn't portend greatness, but the sort of stuff that'll be a slight improvement on Livan Hernandez or Tim Redding last year, with a base projection of 2.1 SNLVAR, but the possibility he pushes that up around 3.0.
You should see the problem: the expected outcomes don't really net you any huge improvements. Cherry-pick the best recent seasons—Santana's '08 as well as Pelfrey's, the 2007 seasons of Maine and Perez, and you wind up with a sunniest sunny scenario where the club nets more than 10 wins from their rotation on their projected season tally of 78. Santana's return to greatness would be a major part of it, as would Pelfrey's picking up something with wiggle to fool lefties more reliably. But so much also depends on Perez and Maine bouncing back to health and excellence that you can see why the skeptics are right to expect another Metastrophe.