When they write the epitaph for the 2011 Mets, it will be about the team that overachieved despite the many obstacles placed in its way. And there’s no doubt that is a large part of the story and an angle that should not be overlooked. But we should also remember what went right. And in the first half of 2011, one of the things that went right for the Mets was the production of Dillon Gee.
Gee came up at the end of 2010 and posted a nifty 2.18 ERA in 33 IP. This performance earned him respect from many Mets fans in the blogosphere, who were vocal about wanting Gee to be in the starting rotation at the start of 2011. However, some looked at his 4.20 FIP and 5.00 xFIP and anticipated ugly things happening if Gee pitched 150 or more innings for this year’s club.
The season started with Gee in the minors but he soon got a call to the big club and it was not long after that before he moved into the starting rotation. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that Gee and his strong pitching kept the Mets afloat through much of the first half.
However, here lately things have not been quite so rosy for Gee. Here’s a breakdown of his first 13 games compared to his last nine.
We see that in the early part of the year Gee really was pitching well, although not quite as well as his ERA would have you believe. Unfortunately, we see that over the last two months, Gee has been every bit as awful as his ERA would indicate. He’s walking more batters, he’s striking out just a fraction of the hitters he was earlier in the season and he’s allowed twice as many HR in fewer innings.
Let’s take a look at those gopher balls. This year, major league pitchers are allowing a HR on just over 10 percent of the fly balls they allow. In his first 13 games, Gee had 63 FB and only 4 of those left the park. That’s a HR/FB ratio of 6.3 percent or below what we would expect. In his last nine games, he had 57 FB and 8 of those left the park. That’s a HR/FB ratio of 14.0 percent or above what we would expect.
But if we take the season as a whole, Gee has allowed 120 FB and 12 HR or almost exactly what we would expect. The increase in homers here lately has been nothing more than regression, something we should have completely anticipated.
The troubling aspect for Gee has been with his strikeouts. He’s just not getting the punchouts he was earlier in the season. Now for the million-dollar question – Why?
In 2010, Gee had a 9.20 K/9 in the minors but when he came to the majors his strikeout rate dropped to 4.64 in his debut in the show. We expect pitchers to have a worse strikeout rate in the majors than in Triple-A, but the size of Gee’s dropoff was unexpected.
In the first part of the year, Gee had a 6.68 K/9 or more in line with what we might expect given his Triple-A numbers. But in his last nine games, Gee has a 4.91 K/9 or more in line with what he did in his first taste of the majors.
At TexasLeaguers.com we can get splits and here are Gee and his “whiff” rates by pitch. Here’s how Gee rated over his first 13 games:
Now here’s the same chart for his last nine games
The changeup is his best swing-and-miss pitch and here recently Gee is throwing it less often. Instead, he’s throwing more four-seam fastballs and batters are making more contact against the pitch than they were in his first 13 games. Also, the curve was his second-best swing-and-miss pitch at the beginning of the year and Gee is getting whiffs now only about half as often with his hook as he was earlier.
Additionally, Gee is throwing a fewer percentage of strikes with each one of his pitches here in his last nine games. None of the differences, save for his slider, are great but a small decrease across the board can add up and that’s what seems to be plaguing Gee. His slider has seen a significant dropoff, but since he throws so few of those, it’s not a big factor overall.
It would be nice to see Gee throw more changeups for the remainder of the season. It’s probably too simplistic to say that this is the root of his problem but a righthander without an overpowering fastball needs a standout secondary pitch. Gee’s best shot of developing that necessary offering is to concentrate on his changeup.
Jair Jurrjens, Shaun Marcum and Carl Pavano are righties who don’t light up the radar gun but who succeed thanks to a great changeup. Gee’s average fastball velocity this year is 89.7 compared to 89.2 for Jurrjens. In my opinion, Gee’s best chance to succeed is to stop throwing so many curves and get back to his change.