Saturday, December 25, 2010

Debunking Dillon, Part 2

A few readers of my last article, Debunking Dillon, brought up a similar point in response to my contention that we shouldn't expect too much from Dillon Gee in the upcoming season:

Dude, you forgot to mention that Gee was the K leader for all of the AAA! How can you accidentally leave out that stat, somewhere around 170 k's!! And don't forget, alot of those AAA bats are major leaguers or soon will be. I think his 5 games pitching in the bigs was a good sampling! It is at least 20% of what an average starter will do in a season. - Anonymous #1

Gee seemed to have alot of success in AAA Buffalo this year. I think he came back this year after a shoulder injury and recieved the "Come back player of the year" award and "The Sterling Award" for AAA pitchers. Also, I believe he was one game shy of leading the league in wins for AAA. That does not sound to shabby considering the other talent he was up against in AAA. - Anonymous #2 (you guys really need to start logging in for your comments!)
I actually did not intentionally leave out the fact that Gee was able to do that last season. In my research on the topic of Gee, I actually did come across the following article by Toby Hyde pointing out this interesting accomplishment:
Dillon Gee set a new Bisons’ strikeout record last night. Even so, despite a sparkling 4.2 K/BB I cannot make an argument based on Gee’s stats that he’s ready to be an asset to the Major League team.
He goes on to take a closer look at Gee's season and determines that "I think we’ll see [Gee] in September, but I’m not convinced it’s going to go well." Well, as history indicates, Gee *did* make the Show but performed much better than Hyde or anyone else expected that he would.

But the readers do make a good point - was Gee's season in Buffalo better than the superficial stats would indicate? If you recall, his performance in Triple-A was one of the reasons why I was slightly less enamored of Gee than I was heading into the season. So, for the sake of completeness, here is a fuller look at Gee's performance last year:

2009 - Buffalo - 48 IP, 47 H, 22 ER, 5 HR, 16 BB, 42 K, 1.30 WHIP, 4.10 ERA
2010 - Buffalo - 161 IP, 174 H, 89 ER, 23 HR, 41 BB, 165 K, 1.33 WHIP, 4.96 ERA

The first thing we can do is look at that ERA and just throw it out the window. Gee was better in almost every controllable category in 2010 than he was in 2009, so let's take a look at some of those components.

2009 - Buffalo - 8.75 H/9, 0.93 HR/9, 2.98 BB/9, 7.82 K/9
2010 - Buffalo - 9.71 H/9, 1.28 HR/9, 2.29 BB/9, 9.20 K/9

As you can see, he allowed more hits and home runs, but his K/BB ratios were both much improved. As most prospect hounds will tell you, you want to look more at K/BB than you do at hits (which can be affected by luck) as well as HR/9 (which to an extent is somewhat also controlled by luck). Here's a look now at a couple of the simpler sabermetric numbers:

2009 - Buffalo - .232 BABIP, 75.4% Strand, 4.11 FIP
2010 - Buffalo - .342 BABIP, 67.4% Strand, 4.01 FIP

Dillon was pretty lucky in his Buffalo stint in 2009, and was somewhat unlucky in 2010. In fact, his FIP, bears out the fact that he only was nominally better this year than he was last year despite the large variance in ERA.

I suppose that is where I begin to make my attempt at fusing statistics with scouting and experience - and I think that this is where both fields are most useful. Of course, one could easily just take Dillon's statistics from last year and do a Major League Equivalency and assume he'll perform at that level in the majors. But in real life, there are so many factors affecting each individual player, that if you *do* know of those factors, you need to use them to help you make your own opinion.

Last article, I mentioned a pitcher named Yusmeiro Petit. Here's what I wrote about him:
"I used to think that Petit was one of the best pitching prospects on the planet. He posted K/9 figures of 12 or better at FOUR consecutive minor league stops... But he didn't pass the eye test for some, and scouts didn't like him at the higher levels... I thought, "So what if his stuff is no good?"

Lo and behold, Petit got crushed by better competition - unlike lower minors batters who he could strike out at ease, the more talented competition could take him yard at will."
Take a look at what Yusmeiro did at Double-A Binghamton at the age of 20: 2.91 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 1.38 BB/9, 9.94 K/9. At that level, despite being young, he was Pedro in his prime. Marc Hulet had an interesting write up of Petit in mid-2008 and his takeaway was this: "Stats are great, but sometimes you just have to trust the scouting report." A little simplistic, but close enough.

Another red flag for Gee is former sabermetric love-fest Brian Bannister. There are many similarities between Bannister and our sample group. Though my memory wanted to tell me otherwise, fangraphs tells me that Bannister's average fastball has been between 89 and 90 each of the last four seasons. Bannister, in fact, may be an even better example of a pitcher like Gee, but Petit came to mind for me first because I was so spectacularly wrong about Petit.

In any event, some numbers on Bannister. He was always old for his level (like Gee), and posted good K/BB ratios (like Gee, though not quite as good). He put up a 4.32 ERA in St. Lucie with 8.65 K/9. The next year, he posted a 2.56 ERA in Binghamton with 7.76 K/9. He even performed well in Triple-A, better than Gee has, be posting a 3.86 ERA and a K/BB ratio better than 4 in a handful of starts.

One thing that Bannister had, and Petit had, and Gee has, is an escalating home run ratio. Bannister's, as he increased levels, went from 0.49 (A) to 0.91 (AA) to 1.19 in his last stint in Triple A. Petit's went from 0.87 (A-), to 1.15 (AA), to 1.30 (AAA). By the same token, Gee's has escalated from 0.42 in Single A to 1.28 in his last year in Buffalo.

Boring details: Even successful major leaguers who you would consider stinkers do not show this pattern. Livan Hernandez never had a HR/9 greater than 0.55 in Triple-A. Jon Garland - who admittedly is a sinkerballer - never had a HR/9 greater than 0.92 and saw it decrease as he climbed the ladder. Kevin Millwood had HR/9 numbers that hovered around 1.0, but they did not increase *as* he climbed the minors. Dave Bush's HR/9 went from 0.68 to 0.70 to 0.44 to 0.63. Paul Maholm went from 0.41 to 0.55 to 0.50.

In summary, there are three things that Petit, Bannister, and Gee have in common that make me wary about Gee's ability to strive in the majors.

1. Low-minors success based on excellent K/BB ratios
2. Right-handers with low-velocity fastballs (topping out around 89)
3. Escalating HR/9 ratios, particularly in Triple-A

When you throw soft, and depend on location, it is a very bad if not fatal sign when more advanced hitters can start taking you yard with regularity.

One final note on Gee, because I know this has been lengthy. Yes, Dillon performed admirably in Buffalo this season, but many times Triple-A success just doesn't translate to major league success. Here's a list of Dillon's teammates who performed well in Triple-A who made it to the majors:

Pat Misch: 3.23 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
Raul Valdez: 3.00 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
Sean Green: 4.64 ERA, 1.45 WHIP
R.A. Dickey: 2.23 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
John Maine: 0.00 ERA, 0.92 WHIP (4 innings)
Oliver Perez: 2.31 ERA, 1.46 WHIP (11 innings)
Manny Acosta: 3.47 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
Ryota Igarashi: 3.31 ERA, 1.47 WHIP
Bobby Parnell: 4.14 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

So it's Dickey and Parnell - both who have great stuff - and various levels of replacement-level to unmitigated disaster.

I hope that Gee proves me wrong, but there are a lot of reasons to believe that his statistics in Triple A this season (not bad) to his major league cameo (fantastic) are the best we'll ever see from him.

Side notes from Baseball Cube research on minor league home run rates:

-- Cole Hamels is underrated
-- Did you know Mark Buehrle was a THIRTY EIGHTH round draft pick yet spent only 36 starts in the minors before skipping Triple-A and coming to the Majors? Dude is seriously underrated - he's only 31 and has 148 career wins and an ERA below 4 in an American League pitcher's park. Oh, and he also has two no-hitters.
-- I was so excited about Kiko Calero last season, what happened to him?


Dogfish said...

I think it's a matter of expectations. Few people are expecting Gee to be a top of the rotation starter. If he can hold down a spot at a somewhat capable level -- on the order of somebody like Bannister -- I think most people would consider it a success. If your expectation is Greg Maddux, prepare to be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

Well, here is a lengthly reply in 2 parts to get it all in:

People constantly seem to just make up stuff to try and justify their feelings about Prospects they like or dislike.

As for Gee Scouts, Bloggers, Writers etc. seemingly will always see him as a nobody 21st rounder that just isnt supposed to be that good and thereby cant be.

Take out Gee's 3 worst 2010 AAA starts where he was obviosly testing his arms velocity, (announcers stated he was hitting 95), along with the one right before his callup and he had a completely statistically different Season. As for his previous time in the minors, it was outstanding.

What if we took a look at Gee through the same glasses that we might look through when viewing most Mets top prospects? Things tend to look much better:

2007 SS NYPL:
They might have seen a 21st rounder enter the system in the NYPL as a reliever, get a shot at the rotation, take it and hit the ground running on a pretty remakable journey actually.
Age appropriate at 21 yrs old? yes, all NYPL teams are full of college top 10 prospects. These teams are built to win and test prospects entering the system.

2008 HighA St Lucie - AA Bignhampton - Winter Ball Puerto Rico 200+ innings:
They might have seen the post by the fan in St Lucie in his first full season (in which few prospects jump straight into and ended in an impressive AA stint and pitcher of the year in Winter Ball Puerto Rico) that sat by him while he was charting pitches and they talked about how hard he worked at changing speeds on his fastball ( much as RA has recently said he does with is knuckler) and is able to use that to add pitches to his arsenal at 21/22 years old (age appropriate = yes).
Apparently Dillon Gee's FB can hit 95 and when he does it appears he meant to, just as when he hits 88.

2009 ST Invite AAA Buffalo innings 40+:
They might have learned he had pitched his 2009 AAA season at 22/23 (age appropriate = yes) injured, with an injury that many pitchers never come back from. That while rehabbing without surgery he injured his ankle and was sent to Tx to continue his rehab there, injured his knee (according to Woggans Sterling awards interview) , had knee surgery, and added that to his rehab till going to 2010 spring training.

Anonymous said...

2010 AAA - NYM innings 190+:
They might have then seen Gee rehab while pitching a full season for the Bisons in 2010 at 23/24 (age appropriate = yes), perfect a new pitch, set a strikeout record, earned his first cup of coffee in the majors and increased his innings from 40+ in 2009 to 190+ in 2010. They might have heard the interviews where he mentioned his main goal that season was to Prove he was Healthy, get back his arm strength, control and confidence in his health and pitches.

MLB - innings 30+
They might have then heard the MLB interview with Burkhardt I think (applies to his MLB periferals), where Gee said he conciousely decided to work the edges more than usual to maximize his chances for success, said "he felt he could control his game better with runners on base rather than possibly giving up to many hard hits" or something close to that and it appears that is just what he did.
After a AAA season of record strikeouts, highest era, and home runs allowed, Gee suddenly allowed fewer hits than innings pitched, less home runs, more walks and a very low era in the majors. All this at 23/24
Luck? Maybe, but sure doesn't look like it in that light.

Makeup -
Take a look at this 2 paragraph snip from a recent article on Baseball Digest on Gee and his makeup.
Our resident behavioral guru Dr. Mark Filippi was equally impressed. I asked him to evaluate his thoughts on Gee:

All I needed to know about this ONTO was demonstrated against the Phillies in that late September game the weekend of the Utley-Beltran caper. He let up a homer early and the Phillies gave him a little smack from the dugout. Rather than skulk away, Gee glared into their dugout, pointed out certain Phillies and went back on the mound and proceeded to mow them down and get one of the few W’s the Mets got against them after the competitive phase of the ’10 season ended in mid-June. He’s not afraid to make mistakes or lose throwing his pitch. This kid isn’t the most talented prospect the Mets have, but he may be the most mentally tough. Unlike other ONTO pitchers I’ve discussed (Joba, Pelfrey, Burnett…) Gee is a very coherent, solid player who will take the ball every 5th day and own that start.
Bottom line: this is a guy who will maximize his talent at the big league level. I see him as someone like Jon Garland who will give you innings, compete, but never be the sexy name in the rotation. Garland’s peripherals don’t excite you, but he does enough to win ballgames, which is ultimately what the purpose of the starting pitcher. Unlike other prospects with talent, Gee is someone that will not be denied in maximizing his talent. There is no fear in this kid."

You stated "He was always old for his level (like Gee)" . Gee was never old for the league he entered. He was usually on the lower side of appropriate age.

Hopefully I never become a typical New York Mets fan that always expects the worst from their team and players, living for the fail.

Heres to looking forward to seeing a whole lot more of the best from Dillon Gee and all the New York Mets Prospects and Players.

Againstsabermetrics said...

Well Mr. Mangan??? What is your response to those facts? What about your sabermetrics?

How many would love to be good enough to beat the Phillies starting on the bump? Why do you sabermetric guys all cover each other's backs? The results will come. The Mets minor league blog said that if Gee got to start in the Show, it probably would not go well. That statement was all based on sabermetrics. As the previous responder showed very well, the percentages(numbers) don't always add up. The results are real.

Gee, bottom line, did his job for the Mets when he got the chance. Because of that, he will get more chances...each one producing results. It will be interesting to see how scientifically viable the sabermetrics are with this player. Even more interesting, how will the sabermetric scouts respond to the results that defy their science?

Anonymous said...

Well, let's see . . . Dillon Gee is now 8-2 in a major league Met's uni! I don't see any comments from the sabermetric scouting ranks about his success this far?? No comment?? Embarrassed because their science failed them? Most of them not really "baseball players" but "wannabes" who watch from the stands? I think the latter is the real answer. They admire baseball players because they never were.

Brian Mangan said...

Anonymous, you picked an interesting time to post this, as Gee just got beat up by the Yankees.

Anyway, Gee has been great this year. I like the kid. I never said that I didn't or that I thought he couldn't hack it in the majors. But I do think he's playing over his head right now.

As the first commenter pointed out, it has a lot to do with expectations. I expected -- and still expect -- Gee to be a guy who posts an ERA of around 4.50. Maybe 4.0 or a hair under that in a career year, which we might be seeing right now.

Finally, since a few mentioned it, I am not a sabermetrician nor do I consider myself "one of them." In fact, if you go to a site like Amazin Avenue you'll see that I spend most of my time there telling them that they're over-reliant on numbers and suffer from big-time groupthink. However, I do believe that the numbers, in addition to what we see, have a lot to tell us.