Thursday, December 23, 2010

Debunking Dillon

Today, a quick look at Dillon Gee and the expectations being heaped upon him for the upcoming season. First, a look at the expectations:
NY Daily News: After Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese and R.A. Dickey, Dillon Gee is the best internal option. The righthander impressed in a September callup, and the Mets hope he can secure a rotation spot

Bleacher Report: He could be the potential workhorse and innings-eater the Mets need...

Metsblog: So, if it comes down to Misch or Dillon Gee, I prefer Gee... Gee had more balanced results than Misch last year, he’s younger, and I think he has a slightly higher ceiling that Misch

NY Baseball Digest: Gee is certainly not a top of the rotation ace like Santana, nor does he have the potential of Mike Pelfrey, but Gee showed some moxie during his brief call up ... I can see Gee throwing 175 innings next year, winning 10 games, and pitching to a 4.50 ERA.

We at Fonzie Forever like to pride ourselves on staying a step ahead of the curve. We were really excited about Jon Niese before his sterling 2010 debut. On the eve of his first start, we pointed out how quietly successful he had been through the minors. We later followed up by comparing him favorably with Wade Davis, a highly touted prospect on the Rays. Another outside the box profile was Jordany Valdespin before he became a household name among Mets prospect mavens.

The big one, and the subject of this article, is Dillon Gee. We profiled Gee in April of last season and pointed out that he had quietly been performing well at each level of the minors:
Gee was drafted out of the 22nd round (unspectacular) and was assigned to short-season Class-A Brooklyn for his minor league debut (unspectacular). He pitched well there, but by the start of the 2008 season, he was a 22-year-old in Port St. Lucie -- nothing to get too excited about. [But] at what point do we have to look at Gee's performances and say to ourselves that he deserves a second look? From the start of the 2008 season and onward, he has been great - doing nothing to dispel the notion that he could someday prove to be a very good major league pitcher.
Gee, as we all know, earned a call up from Triple-A Buffalo late last year and shone in his major league debut. Here's how his last two seasons have looked:

Minors Career - A/AA/AAA - 3.76 ERA, 7.96 K/9, 1.90 BB/9, 1.18 WHIP
2009 - Buffalo - AAA - 48 innings, 4.10 ERA, 2.63 K/BB, 1.30 WHIP
2010 - Buffalo - AAA - 161 innings, 4.96 ERA, 4.02 K/BB, 1.33 WHIP
2010 - Mets - MLB/AAA - 33 innings, 2.18 ERA, 1.13 K/BB, 1.21 WHIP

Pretty good performances in Triple-A, and then a spectacularly successful 33 inning cameo in the major leagues. It is those last 33 innings that are the driving force behind those who think that Gee is already prepared to be an adequate major league pitcher. But is Gee the pitcher that fans of the major league squad saw in September? Is he as good as his career minor league stats might indicate? Or is an ERA approaching 5.00 as he showed last season in Buffalo more accurate?

Unfortunately for the Mets, I think Gee's late success last year took his stock from grossly underrated to somewhat overrated. New York is a funny place (Rex Ryan foot video, anyone?). In my opinion, Gee is probably much closer to a 4.96 ERA in Triple-A kind of pitcher than anything else, and here's why:

1. His major league stats last year appeared to be the result of some *fantastic* luck. Gee's peripherals in his short New York cameo were not good - for instance, his strikeout to walk ratio of 17-15, and he struck out less than 5 batters per nine innings. According to Fangraphs, his batting average on balls in play was an extremely fortunate .232, when in the long run it should end up somewhere in the neighborhood of .300 or a little higher. He managed to strand on base over 80% of the runners he allowed, which is a high number. And he allowed home runs on less than 5% of his fly balls.

For those in the sabermetric crowd, that's almost a "perfect game" of luck - everything broke his way. Granted, it was only 33 innings, and you can't put too much stock into such a small sample size - but that is exactly my point as well. Those 33 innings tell you almost nothing, and since Gee appears to be the beneficiary of some great luck, he is unlikely to be nearly as good in the future.

2. His stuff doesn't dominate you. Gee gets by with a fastball that averaged 89.1 MPH last season, along with a change and slider. He managed to get a very good amount of ground balls (47%), and I don't have access to right now (site broken) but I imagine that ground balls are an important part of his game. Even assuming that he can continue to get batters to pound the ball into the ground, not having good 'stuff' will catch up with you in the upper minors and the Show. Yes, a lot of pitchers get by with 89 mile per hour fastballs -- but a lot of those guys are lefthanded, or struggled for years, or have great secondary offerings. Gee can succeed as a righthander with that kind of repertoire (Greg Maddux was throwing 85 at the end of his Braves tenure) but these guys tend to be the exceptions, not the rule.

3. His career minor league stats are aided by the 127 innings he spent in Single-A as a 22-year-old beating up on inferior competition. We won't even mention the 62 innings he dominated at short season Brooklyn after he graduated college. The only work of Gee's that should have much probative weight in guessing how he'll be in the major leagues is his work in Double and Triple-A, where his results were mixed.

None of this is to say that I don't think Dillon Gee won't be a useful major league player, or that I doubt he could even someday develop into a good pitcher in the #3 or #4 type mold. But I've seen this all before: crafty right-hander climbs up through the Mets minors, not overpowering stuff, but excellent strikeout-to-walk ratios. Except this player? He was even better, and even younger, than Gee. His name?

Yusmeiro Petit. 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. He pitched in Double-A Binghamton as a 20 year old and posted a WHIP of 0.92(!) with a 2.91 ERA. But he didn't pass the eye test for some, and scouts didn't like him at the higher levels. I didn't care though - and in retrospect lost many an argument about it. I thought, "So what if his stuff is no good? If anything, he can make up for it with control and with his great instinct for pitching."

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 seemingly at will. He possesses a career major league ERA of 5.58 and I think is seeking work. Incidentally, Petit's fastball was clocked at 88.7 when he broke into the major leagues.

For this reason, I think Gee has become overrated. I liked him last year as a future potential contributor, but in the last season, his stock has actually dropped in my mind. He went from a guy posting a 3.00 ERA and a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk in the low minors to a guy with an ERA between 4 and 5 in the high minors, and I consider that a warning sign.

As I said, there is no reason to believe that Gee CAN'T improve and take his game up to the level that the general population seems to think it should be -- I just doubt it. Even guys who you might consider to be soft-tossing righties can usually crack 90 miles per hour.

That's why I'd like to see Pat Misch be given the first crack at the #5 starter spot this spring. But if Gee can become another Scott Baker, or Jeff Suppan, or John Garland, then great.


Anonymous said...

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 said...

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.

Brian Mangan said...

Thanks for the comment, guys. I responded in length to your comments in my next blog!

Hope you enjoy reading, and I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on it.

Anonymous said...

You made a valid argument for Gee's mediocrity, but tossed it way by suggesting Misch is better than Gee. You should be suggesting that Sandy should be looking for 2 bonafide starters.

As for Gee, I'd still give him a shot. They guy knows how to pitch, which may be the cause of some of the luck you referred to.