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Mets season preview: Dillon Gee might be better than we think he is

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The 28-year-old righty has seemingly always lived on the fringes of our perception of the Mets rotation. Is it time for that perception to change?

Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

There is a saying in Hindi that goes, "ghar ki murgi dal barabar." In English, it roughly translates to 'a chicken at home seems no better than dal'—dal apparently being a less-than-enticing lentil dish. The idea here is that you have a perfectly fine plate of food that you made in your kitchen at home.

But when presented with a similar meal that comes from, say, a hip new restaurant, you're typically going with that second plate. The phrase is more or less an analog to the English speaker's 'the grass is always greener.' What's your point, you ask? The point is that Dillon Gee is a chicken at home.

In the wake of recent reports that the veteran pitcher will almost definitely slot into Zack Wheeler's newly available rotation spot, there's been some backlash among Mets fans. The basic idea being that, in top prospect Noah Syndergaard—or, to a lesser extent, Rafael Montero—the club possesses a better, higher-upside option than boring, old Gee.

This is how Mets fans perceive Dillon Gee. He is average.

Now, I'm as high on Syndergaard as the next Mets fan. I won't be throwing any shade on his somewhat wonky 2014 campaign, nor will I be paying too much mind to his less-than-dominant spring. I'm here to talk about Gee.

Quickly scan the news wire following Gee's apparent re-entry into the Mets rotation and you'll notice a handful of words that appear over and over—words like serviceable, average, adequate. This is how Mets fans perceive Dillon Gee. He is average. The flaw of our oh-so-human need to compartmentalize, however, is that once in the bucket, it's tough to come back out. And to my eyes, there are underlying signs that our judgment of Gee the Average might  require further review.

Let's start by looking at Gee's recent performance. In 2013, he posted a solid 3.62 ERA. In 2014, it was a more mediocre 4.00 ERA. All told he's amassed a 3.77 ERA over the past couple seasons. Not bad—technically below-average (see: 94 ERA+)—but still pretty middle-of-the-pack. His FIP tells a similar story.

Now let's look at his recent performance through the lens of health. It's a key distinction that we're all too happy to make with young studs like Zack Wheeler, but when a guy like Gee suffers from protracted elbow pain we don't really bat an eye.

So back to Gee's 2013 season. Yes, he posted a 3.62 ERA, but the campaign was more notable for his sudden emergence as a force in the Mets rotation during the second half, spurred by a memorable 12-strikeout performance at Yankee Stadium on May 30.

Interestingly, this turnaround happens to coincide with Gee himself stating that the elbow pain he'd felt since returning from the blood clot that blew up his 2012 campaign had recently subsided. From a New York Times game wrap written a month after the Yankee Stadium start:

"Gee said that his arm, which has bothered him since spring training, did not hurt Saturday [June 29th] and that it seemed to be improving. [Manager Terry] Collins said the Mets would continue to look for any problems. He said he planned to have Gee pitch last when the team comes back from the All-Star break, which would give him a week and a half to rest as the team embarks on the season’s second half."

Whether it was the increased rest Collins referred to—Gee would receive more than five days of rest on four separate occasions during this period—or his body just healing itself, it's safe to say Gee got healthy around the same time that he began thriving.

Gee would carry that momentum into the 2014 season, taking the ball on Opening Day and looking every bit the part of the unsung stalwart. Fans and media alike focused on Wheeler as heir apparent to the fallen ace and buzzed over newcomers to the rotation Bartolo Colon and Jenrry Mejia. And yet it was Gee who paced the rotation in ERA through mid-May.

That is, until a lat injury sidelined him for the better part of two months. Upon returning, Gee's nearly one year stretch of excellence ended as he would scuffle for the rest of 2014—struggling to regain his mechanics after the side injury. The potential blossom of a player into the prime of his career was more or less written off to the ebbs and flows of a middling pitcher. But should it have been?

Would we think of Dillon Gee differently if his Baseball-Reference page had a season with a 2.72 ERA next to it?

Imagine that instead of spanning two separate years, Gee had produced these results over the course of a single year. It's not a farfetched exercise—Gee's run of dominance spanned 30 starts, after all. Would we think of him differently if his Baseball-Reference page had a season with a 2.72 ERA next to it? It's my feeling that we would.

Instead, Gee's perception suffers as a result of the imaginary boundaries we use to break up and more easily digest the ongoing statistical record of each player's career—not to mention, the relative inattention he (and more importantly, his health) garners as the low man on the rotational totem pole.

During his dominant 30-start run between 2013 and 2014, Dillon Gee posted a 2.72 ERA -- 13th-best in all of baseball in that span, directly between Max Scherzer and Adam Wainwright.

GeeDominance

Now it is 2015 and by his own account, Gee is back to where he was before the lat injury. He's healthy and, according to a recent piece by Peter Kerasotis in The New York Times, his mechanics are resolved:

This off-season, Gee said he put in a lot of film work, trying to recapture the mechanics that made him a successful big leaguer. ...

"I started really tinkering with my mechanics. When I do that, I’m all messed up. I’m a very feel guy. Mechanics are key for me. I was messed up mentally big-time. ... So I went back and watched old film, " [Gee] said. "I went all the way back and watched film from when I was in college."

Does all this mean that Dillon Gee is primed to dominate the league this season? Not necessarily. The stuff is no less fringy, meaning that his margin for error is as tight as it's ever been. As such, we'll see if his mechanical adjustments prove effective. For what it's worth, reports have been very positive thus far.

However, for all the excitement surrounding rookies with better stuff and bigger hype, I wouldn't overlook Gee as a potential key contributor to the Mets success in 2015. Because, while it may not grab our attention, chicken at home can still be pretty darn good.