Is Dillon Gee the Next Shaun Marcum?

"Brother?"

Last Tuesday we debuted the AA Prospect Mailbag segment and I answered a really interesting question about Dillon Gee's ceiling. Well the resulting discussion about his lack of velocity and how much that limited his long-term potential really piqued my interest so I decided to look into this issue a little further and try to find a good comparable.

In so doing I decided to dust off a story I wrote last December comparing Mets minor league outfielder Sean Ratliff to Detroit's Brennan Boesch. But this time, I'm looking less at the form and more at the function. Meaning I don't care about mechanics like with the outfielders, this time I'm concerned more about the actual pitches they're using to do their thing. First off let's take a look at Gee's offerings for reference:

(click image to embiggen)
Gee_medium

Dillon Gee is an odd bird in a few ways:

  1. First off, the number one thing people/scouts bring up when talking about Gee is his lack of fastball velocity. As you can see from his Fangraphs Pitch Types chart from 2010, he averaged just 89.1 mph during his September preview (obviously 33 IP isn't an ideal sample size for such an analysis but these figures are unavailable for the minors).
  2.  

  3. The second unique trait about Gee's pitching style is his heavy use of the change-up. Now this one is actually a positive as he possesses a plus change-up with very good fade, more than enough differential (from the fb) and extremely deceptive arm action.
  4.  

  5. This pitch is his bread and butter and is the reason for Gee's third irregular inclination, his reverse splits. Gee is in the small minority of starting pitchers that actually has more success against opposite-handed hitters (.728 OPS against lefties vs. .814 OPS against righties in Buffalo in 2010).

 

So now to find a good comp for Gee: To effectively do this we have to key in on these three unique hallmarks of Dillon's game. First, we'll look at velocity; below is the list of right-handed starters since 2008 that have averaged at or below 89.1 mph:

Velo_medium 

The next step is to focus on the high change-up thrown percentage; the below is a list of right-handed starters since 2008 who have thrown change-ups for at least 16.8% of their pitches:

Changeup_medium 

There were two names that happened to fall on both lists -- aside from Greg Maddux because...well because he's Greg Maddux and he doesn't count -- and they were Reds veteran Bronson Arroyo and Brewers starter Shaun Marcum.

On the surface both of these names certainly make sense based on what we generally know about each of them: low velocity reighies that rely heavily on secondary offerings. But now that we've narrowed the pool we can explore that third marker, the opposite split factor. And as it turns out, Arroyo is not a member of that odd little club as his career splits exhibit much more typical results: .820 OPS against lefties vs. 686 OPS against righties.

This makes sense as the key to dominating opposite-handed batters is and always has been the change-up and though Arroyo throws his a lot it is not one of his better offerings. According to Fangraphs' Pitch Type Values, Arroyo's change-up has only been worth a cumulative 1.8 runs above average throughout his career while his much more effective curve and slider combo have racked up an impressive 47.4 and a 70.3 run above average, respectively. As it turns out, Arroyo is not a great match.

However, a quick look at Marcum proves interesting: Not only does his change-up tower over his other pitches at 44.3 runs above average, like Gee he has been decidedly better against left-handed hitters throughout his career (.694 OPS against lefties vs. .748 OPS against righties).

Ding ding ding, we have a match!

And we can even go further:

  • Like Gee, Marcum has always posted high strikeout totals despite his overall lack of velocity. His Triple-A career mark is 8.5 K/9, compared to Gee's 8.7 K/9.
  • Marcum too suffers from longball-itis and like Gee contracted it when he first came in contact with the high minors. His first season in Triple-A in '06 resulted in a 1.3 HR/9, the exact same figure Gee posted in 2010 in his first season with Buffalo.
  • Not only did both post ERA's in the mid-4's for their Triple-A careers, Marcum matches Gee's excellent command as well. Neither ever posted a BB/9 over 3 throughout their minor league careers.

The profiles certainly do look alike. But as similar as they are, Mets fans shouldn't go expecting Gee to match Marcum's 3.5 2010 WAR just yet. There are differences between these two; in addition to Gee's four-pitch mix, Marcum also features a relatively effective cutter which he throws fairly often. Marcum also cleary showed a lot of improvement in his core skills as he adjusted to the majors -- and the AL East -- between '06 and '08 that we can't just assume will happen for Gee. 

But even so, the clear resemblence between these two players is undeniable and as a result, the growing contingent of Mets fans who envision Dillon Gee as more than just a no. five certainly have something to hope for.

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