Before falling to injury last season, Dillon Gee showed some signs of breaking out. Can similar current pitchers teach us more about his chances of continuing that improvement?
This is not a complicated post, but neither is it going to be based on a single number and some pop culture references. The point of this essay is merely to look at current pitchers that profile similarly to Dillon Gee -- statistically -- and see what those pitchers tell us about Gee's chances of improving further this season.
In order to manage this small feat, we'll have to first define Gee. The good news, at least in this effort, is that Gee himself has shown a range of outcomes in key statistical fields. For example, he struck out 21% of the batters he faced last season. In 2011, that number was 16.2%. So let's set the range for strikeouts between 16 and 21%. Following the same general guidelines, we can also say that Dillon Gee was a pitcher that walked 6-10% of his opponents and garnered a ground ball 47-51% of the time. Let's set the bar at 300 innings over the last three years.
Unfortunately, this search for a comp wouldn't be complete without a nod to Gee's less-than-ideal fastball velocity. Over the course of the last three years, Gee has averaged 89.9 mph on his fastball, so even though he has some things in common with Edwin Jackson, he certainly isn't in the same class as the 94-mph hurler overall. So let's look at pitchers that have a fastball velocity under 92 mph. Basically pitchers with a "50" fastball rating on the scouting scale.
It's an interesting list:
The first thing that might leap out at you is that this is a decent group of pitchers. And it should be. Strikeout rate minus walk rate is one of the most powerful predictors in the sabermetric toolbox, and a K-BB% of 14.7% -- Gee's number last season -- is above average for a starting pitcher (~12%). But when we zoom out on Gee's career, we find that the pitcher is much more average in that respect, and that's why the only ace on the list is of the unconventional variety.
Still, an average-ish K-BB% didn't stop most of the pitchers on this list from having better ERAs than Gee. That, and the fact that Gee has the best swinging strike rate on this list (thank god for that changeup), should give his supporters some ammunition.
A 90-mph fastball has not been a death knell for any of these pitchers. They've all used other pitches to make their bread and butter. Gee's changeup probably won't reach the heights of Dickey's knuckler, but can it be as good as Wandy's curveball? Seems like a reasonable possibility.
Gavin Floyd presents an interesting boogeyman. His fastball has always shown more oomph than Gee's, but by the pitch type values on FanGraphs, you can tell it's been a terrible pitch for him over his career. And like Gee, Floyd has cut his fastball percentage and relied on his breaking pitches. Unlike Gee, however, Floyd has pitched in the tougher league and in a tough home park for home runs. His career 11.8% home runs per fly ball rate is decidedly above the league average, and if you stole a home run or two away from his lines over the year, they might fit right in with the rest of the pitchers listed here.
If you take away C.J. Wilson and his possibly regressing BABIP, and R.A. Dickey and his unique statistical profile, it seems like Jon Niese is the best comp. He shares so much with Gee. Not only the jersey and home park, but Niese also owns a "meh" fastball that he supplements heavily with a secondary pitch. Statistically, Niese uses good control along with average strikeout punch and above-average ground balls in order to succeed. Gee's walk rates in the minor leagues were always well above average, and his ground ball rate has held steady in his major league appearances.
Looking at Gee's fastball velocity might make you think that his strikeout rate last season -- 21% -- was unsustainable in the big leagues. The best expected strikeout rate calculator I've seen -- developed by Michael Barr for last season's FanGraphs+ -- takes fastball velocity and swinging strike rate to produce what a player's strikeout rate 'should have been.' The good news is that the calculator still spits out a respectable 19.6% rate. If Gee puts up another walk rate around six, he'll be barely above average by strikeout minus walk rate, and he'll still have his good ground-ball rate.
Gee probably won't help at the front of the rotation -- his fastball and lack of an elite tool will probably reduce his upside -- but this list does suggest that he'll help in the middle of the rotation. Just by consolidating the strikeout and walk gains Gee made last year, he should be in for better days. He might even give the Mets a righty Jon Niese.