Mets fans are abuzz with recent reports that Zack Wheeler could soon be Queens-bound. In fact, the latest rumors speculate that we might see the club's top prospect as soon as June 12th. Quite the momentous occasion for a team that doesn't figure to have too many more of them in 2013.
With Wheeler's debut comes a great deal of intrigue and excitement. However, it also brings about a more pragmatic secondary question regarding which current starting pitcher will vacate his rotation slot. That question is what brings us to Dillon Gee.
The 27-year-old Gee might not be the obvious first choice to jettison upon Wheeler's arrival. Despite his dreadful 6.34 ERA, firmly entrenching him among the bottom ten starters in the National League, there's another Mets starting pitcher who falls even higher/lower on that list (Marcum: 6.59 ERA). Additionally, Jeremy Hefner has also scuffled in 2013 -- and as a career minor leaguer up until his mediocre 2012 campaign, the club clearly has less invested in the former waiver wire claim. Hell, even Jon Niese has an ERA near five.
Beyond that, Gee has been considered something of a mainstay at the bottom of the Mets rotation since he first burst onto the scene back in 2010. Never considered much of a sure thing as a prospect, over the past three seasons Gee has showcased the ability to consistently hold down a 'back of the rotation' spot -- in other words post an ERA somewhere in the 4s while eating his fair share of innings. Obviously not the most glamorous profile; however, one that no doubt delivers value to a club -- especially one in the process of almost completely turning over it's pitching staff.
Unfortunately, in 2012 Gee lost the second half of his season due to a blood clot in his pitching shoulder. What's worse, he has not been the same pitcher since -- and I'm not just talking about the ugly results. Consider the following chart:
National League Fastball Velocity Losers (2012-2013)
|Rk||Player||Team||2012 FBv||2013 FBv||Diff
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why Gee has had so many struggles thus far in 2013.
Nor does it take a stat nerd; this trend has been visibly apparent to anyone that's watched even a couple of Gee's starts. What makes it so crystal-clear to the observer is the fact that hitters seem remarkably prepared for each and every pitch Gee throws. When I say prepared, I mean that few hitters are ever ahead of or behind a Gee offering -- a key requirement for someone that works with extremely fringey stuff, like Gee does.
In fact, if we dig into that phenomenon it becomes very clear very quickly what the problem has been: In 2012, hitters batted .322 against Gee's fastballs (four seam and sinker). He was able to make that work, however, by limiting them to a sterling .227 mark against his changeup -- his clear best pitch.
Fast forward to 2013 and hitters are once again feasting on his fastballs to the tune of a .371 average; not surprising that that figure is up considering his fastball velocity went from bad to downright awful. The real problem, though, comes from the fact that hitters are now batting .357 against his once formidable changeup. What's changed? Well, thanks to his sinking fastball velocity -- as well as an unfavorable slight uptick in change-up velocity -- Gee is featuring by far the narrowest variance between the two pitches of his career. In fact, in his first three seasons the difference between his fastball and changeup has lived between 7.0 and 7.2 MPH; in 2013 that difference is 5.1 MPH.
The small silver lining to all of this is that Gee -- and Marcum for that matter -- features a Field Independent Pitching (FIP) mark that points to some bad luck*. For that reason, perhaps we can hope he'll bounce back -- and soon -- making this a tougher decision for the front office once it becomes clear that Wheeler is ready to be promoted.
Unfortunately, the sobering truth about Dillon Gee is that even before the blood clot, his mediocre stuff gave him a razor-thin margin for error in order to keep his head above water. Now, with the stuff declining further, there might not be a way for him to consistently do that any longer.
*Even more sobering is the fact that the rosier FIP is based, in large part, on an inflated home run rate (1.45 HR/9). However, it's relatively common knowledge that if a changeup is ineffective, it becomes ripe for the longball. So as Gee tosses fastballs in the high 80s and a changeup that isn't fooling anyone, can we really argue that the home run rate is higher than it should be?