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Dillon Gee Has Some Work To Do

Dillon Gee needs to walk fewer guys.
Dillon Gee needs to walk fewer guys.

Most people already assume Dillon Gee will be in the Mets' starting rotation this season, a defensible position given the dearth of other options. Everyone else is either underdeveloped (Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia) or not on the Mets (lots of guys). Chris McShane suggested in his profile a few weeks ago that, under more propitious circumstances, Gee would be ticketed for the Triple-A rotation:

In a perfect world, Gee would begin the season in Buffalo and provide depth for the rotation, but the Mets just don’t have very much starting pitching right now. As a result, Gee should get another full season opportunity to prove his doubters wrong by showing some improvement.

Gee, a marginal prospect1 coming up through the Mets' system, wowed casual onlookers with his 8-1 start and 3.31 ERA through fifteen appearances — including twelve starts — last season. He went 5-5 with a 5.42 ERA the rest of the way, and those same people wondered what had befallen their once-promising future rotation stalwart. Gee himself tried to unpack his 2011 performance, cleaving the good half from the bad half and pegging his latter struggles on fatigue:

"You could tell that in the end nothing looked the same. The movement just wasn’t there like it was in the first half, and pitches weren’t as sharp. I kind of attribute that to [fatigue]."

He continued:

"I would be lying if I said I wasn’t really tired. But it was important for me to experience that.

"I know now what I need to do better. I don’t think that first half was luck at all. I just think I was pitching well. I knew what I was doing. But as soon as I had a couple of bad outings I started pressing a little bit."

Gee should certainly know how he felt, but it's not as if he had been a dominant pitcher in the early going last season. Sure, an 8-1 record looks pretty next to your name, but there was cause for concern even when things were going well.

Before June 26 8-1 3.32 76 6.0 3.6 0.6 0.247
After June 26 5-5 5.42 85 6.7 4.4 1.4 0.301

Very few pitchers experience prolonged big league success with strikeout and walk rates as unimpressive as Gee's were during his 8-1 streak. It was somewhat ironic that Gee's ratio of strikeouts to walks improved slightly after things fell apart for him, but more telling is that he allowed many more hits on balls in play and that his home run rate exploded (home runs are out of play, of course).

To Gee's point above, a lack of sharpness could account for a fairly significant drop-off in performance, but we're starting from the false premise that when Gee was sharp, his impressive record and ERA were truly indicative of his performance. The ordinary peripheral numbers coupled with a superstar batting average on balls in play tell a different story: Gee was more successful than he deserved to be given how he was pitching.

If you care to see the PITCHf/x details from before and after Gee's supposed fatigue set in, I encourage you to check them out. In short, he did see a decrease in vertical and horizontal movement on his four-seam fastball and in horizontal movement on his curve, but the vertical movement on his curve actually improved. Overall his pitch movement deteriorated somewhat, though it doesn't paint the picture of a thoroughgoing loss of sharpness. And again, his strikeouts increased in the second half of the season, and PITCHf/x illustrates this by way of higher strike rates across the board on his pitches.

It's worth noting that his ground out rate decreased from 22.6% to 20.5%, which is significant but unremarkable.

At all events, unless someone else comes along in the next six weeks, Gee will be anchoring the back end of the Mets' starting rotation in April. He says he needs to improve his stamina and sharpness this season, and those are definitely good things to work on, but if I were his pitching coach I'd probably have him spend more time on not walking so many batters and trying to keep the ball on the ground. Grounders and walk stinginess will get you pretty far in baseball, even with an unspectacular strikeout rate, but it's not at all clear that Gee is going to turn into that guy.

1 John Sickels ranked him 21st among Mets prospects in 2011. (back)