Over at BP, we might currently have the Mets projected to win just 78 games this year, but as with any projection, there's some wiggle room. Or in the Mets' case, a lot of wiggle room. Some of my colleagues argue that the Mets could win anywhere between 92 games and 72, and a big part of the reason why they could end up on either end of that range is their enigmatic rotation. Let's see if the staff really has that kind of upside.
Start with Johan Santana. His injury-shortened 2009 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. Any hope of a Mets revival revolves around Santana regaining his 2008 form.
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, but 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. In the fifth slot, lefty Jon Niese is the likely choice. Though he doesn't project as a star, he should be an improvement on Livan Hernandez and Tim Redding, 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 and Pelfrey in '08, Maine and Perez in '07 -- and you wind up with a sunniest scenario where the club nets more than 10 wins from its rotation on its 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 underwhelming season in Queens.
Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus.