Mets need Dillon Gee more than ever after Mike Pelfrey injury

After yesterday’s win over the Marlins, it was announced that Mike Pelfrey was likely to undergo elbow surgery and miss the remainder of the season. This is really bad news for the Mets, a statement I’d never thought I would say. The Pelfrey we saw in three starts this year was doing everything he needed to do to “cross the Rubicon,” as broadcaster Keith Hernandez would say.

In our small sample, Pelfrey had a 3.25 K/BB ratio, easily the highest of his career. He had not surrendered a home run and his 2.69 GB/FB ratio was also a career-best. Previously, people had said that Pelfrey might be better off in a new organization, that he would need to be surrounded by different people to reach his potential.

I have no idea what Pelfrey’s potential actually is at this point in his career, but I want the guy we saw in 2012 on my team.

There was no shortage of opinions that Pelfrey’s time on the Mets was limited. Some speculated that he would be dealt midseason while others figured that the Mets would let him walk at the end of the year. Either “he’s too inconsistent” or “Jeurys Familia and Matt Harvey will take his place” were echoed by nearly everyone around.

Guys who can throw 200 IP on a yearly basis do not grow on trees. Even last year, an admittedly poor year, Pelfrey was a solid #4 SP. You need guys like that. This isn’t Lake Woebegone, where everyone is above average. Just as it was insane to consider Pelfrey a #1 SP, it is equally crazy to not see the value of a guy who gives you innings and an ERA near league average.

And what we saw this year in three starts was a guy likely to give much better than a league average ERA. Why was everyone so eager to cut ties with this guy?

Equally frustrating for me was that while everyone was eager to push Pelfrey out the door, Dillon Gee seemingly has a Teflon coating and no one wants to admit the obvious: If anyone in the rotation needs to go, it is Gee rather than Pelfrey.

My favorite over-the-top endorsement of Gee comes from his sponsor at Baseball-Reference. A patron by the name of “Snicks” sponsors the page and says of Gee:

I truly believe he is a future 20 game winner. Apparently, the key for him is not to overthrow. When his “SO/9″ ratio is lower, he has more success.

I admire Snicks for sponsoring a page at B-R. I appreciate his optimism around a player on the Mets. But having said those two things – that might be one of the dumbest things I’ve seen written. Since 2002, there have been 29 seasons where a pitcher has won 20 games. In the past 10 years, we have roughly three 20-game winners per year. So our sponsor thinks Gee is going to be one of the top three winners in baseball one of these years.

Meanwhile, Gee is a pitcher who had a 4.96 ERA his full season in Triple-A. While he had 13 Wins last year, that was based on a start in which he won seven of nine GS, a great pace for a pitcher in the race for a Cy Young Award, much less a pitcher of Gee’s pedigree.

Gee deserves all of the credit in the world for his performance in the early going last year. I’ve said more than once that his pitching is what kept the Mets’ season enjoyable for so long last year. But we have to look past a hot streak, see what the player is really like and project what he is likely to do going forward.

Last year, Gee finished the season with a 4.43 ERA. On the surface that seems okay, a bit below the league average, perhaps, but not anything that is going to really hurt the team. But Gee was worse, considerably worse, for most of the season. In his final 17 starts, a stretch covering 94.2 IP, Gee had a 5.51 ERA.

Now, which one seems more likely coming from a guy with a 4.96 ERA at Triple-A:

Option A: 7-0, 2.86 ERA (when he had a 2.23 K/9)
Option B: 6-6, 5.51 ERA (when he had a 1.33 K/9) – sorry Snicks

I think Option B is the much more likely outcome that we should expect. And here in the early going, Gee has a 5.21 ERA here in 2012.

Yet no one complains about Gee and many fans actively look forward to a rotation that does not include Pelfrey. It makes no sense to me.

In 2012, Pelfrey was doing everything he needed to do to be an above-average pitcher. The exciting thing was that he was doing it in ways that indicated skill, rather than luck. Pelfrey was an above-average pitcher in both 2008 and 2010, but in those years he benefitted from an elevated LOB% and a depressed HR/FB rate. If we go by his peripherals, he was exactly the same guy in 2009 and 2011 as he was in 2008 and 2010.

While his xFIP in those four years ranged from 4.31 to 4.55 (a remarkably narrow range for four full seasons), this year it was 3.08 – a truly good number. I blame no one who says that he would regress to his numbers from the previous four years. However, much like I did with Gee’s start in 2011, the detractors need to acknowledge that what we saw this year from Pelfrey was worthwhile.

If we go back to Gee’s strong start to 2011, we see he had a 3.50 FIP and his xFIP would have been even higher, as he had allowed just 4 HR in 66 IP. His hot start was not supported by his peripherals, which suggested a pitcher much-closer to league average. Meanwhile, Pelfrey’s 2.29 ERA in 2012 is supported by a 2.18 FIP and a 3.02 xFIP. Even if Pelfrey regressed completely to his xFIP – that’s still a wonderful pitcher to have.

In an ideal world, Familia and Harvey have great years in the minors in 2012 and hold their own during September auditions in the majors, giving hope that they could be contributing members of the 2013 rotation for the Mets. But even if that happens, I would still be interested in re-signing Pelfrey to battle for a spot, assuming his recovery went off without a hitch.

I feel bad for Pelfrey, coming down with a season-ending injury. But I also feel bad as a Mets fan, as there was seemingly a good chance that this was the year we were going to see Pelfrey blossom before our very eyes. Good luck with the surgery and rehab Mr. Pelfrey. I hope we see you in a Mets uniform again.

As for Gee, he’s more important than ever now. While his start to 2012 has been less than inspiring, the one thing to take comfort in is that he has 16 Ks and 3 BB for a spectacular 5.33 K/BB ratio, which leads to a 3.90 FIP and a 2.99 xFIP. If he can keep his K/BB numbers above 2.0 – I’ll be much more confident in his ability to be a productive member of the rotation, despite what Snicks says over at B-R.

3 comments for “Mets need Dillon Gee more than ever after Mike Pelfrey injury

  1. AJ
    April 27, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Brian, you asked “Why was everyone so eager to cut ties with this guy?” I don’t necessarily want to see Pelf go until the Mets have someone better to replace him, and I don’t think Dillon Gee is anything other than a stopgap measure, but excluding his few nice starts this year Pelfry has more often than not been a torment to watch out on the mound. You cite his numbers as indicating he’s an innings eater who gets at least average results, and I won’t argue about that. But nothing about him gives me any sense of confidence with his pitching. In a pressure situation, he’s about the last (or next to last, if you like, in deference to your dislike of Gee) Met starter I want to see with the ball.

    • Brian Joura
      April 27, 2012 at 11:09 pm

      But that’s my point – I think a fair number of people want Pelfrey gone, for the reasons you mentioned. But they’re not considering what they have available to replace him. I don’t want to see Batista or Schwinden or Hefner instead of Pelfrey. I’d love it if Harvey could replace Gee and Familia replace Pelfrey next year but is it wise to have two rookie pitchers in the rotation at the same time? Maybe it works out fine, maybe it doesn’t.

      I’m uneasy defending Pelfrey but it’s silly to pretend that he has no value.

  2. Metsense
    April 28, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Schwinden and Gee are pitching for their baseball future. If they don’t establish themselves now, there are too many young pitchers ready to pass them in 2013 & 2014. Also Chris Young is knocking at the door, but really, what kind of longevity can we expect with his track record? The Mets,last winter, stated they were a better team than the pundits stated.With 20 games played they are backing up that statement. Did management really believe this though? Last winter there were affordable 5th starters that they did not sign and have for insurance. Instead they went with Batista. Pelfry will be missed, as he was a solid back end starter, and I wish him all the best in his recovery. I don’t see the Mets tendering him or resigning him because of the surplus of young arms that can fill his spot in 2013. Unfortunately they are not ready now.

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