Dillon Gee pitches a little like Santana and Dickey

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Dillon Gee. (mlb.com)
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There's little question about the pecking order about the New York Mets rotation this season.

There's R.A. Dickey, the astonishing knuckleballer with the major league lead in every major pitching category. And there's Johan Santana, the Opening Day starter and author of a recent no-hitter. This is the 1-2 combination that's supposed to allow a cut-rate Mets roster to do something special this season. 

But then what? As manager Terry Collins put it after Santana's performance Tuesday night, "For us to succeed, for us to have a big summer, we’ve got to get Dillon [Gee] and Jon Niese going."

Whether or not the speech had anything to do with it, Gee followed it up by emerging from his season-long funk on Wednesday night, pitching shutout ball into the eighth inning to hel the Mets sweep the Orioles, 4-3.

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Gee actually pitched to a mediocre 4.43 E.R.A. last year, and entering Wednesday night's game, his E.R.A. was an identical 4.43.

How he got there, however, suggests significant improvement, and outings like Wednesday night, when he struck out nine and walked two, aren't far from the norm.

Dillon Gee has evolved almost as surprisingly as R.A. Dickey.

Last season, Gee walked four batters per nine innings, and struck out 6.4 per nine. There was little to suggest that he'd be anything but a competent fill-in as a pitcher. He was about to turn 26, he'd been just a 21st-round draft pick, and his numbers had been better, but not great, in the minor leagues.

Here's what Baseball America said about Gee prior to the 2011 season: "Gee lacks a dominating pitch...Gee's pitches all grade as below-average, his plus control makes them play up...Gee will have to curtail the free passes at the big league level...he perfectly fits the description of dependable innings-eater."

But in 2012, though Gee's E.R.A. is 4.43, his xFIP—a statistic that tries to take defense out of the equation—is 3.33. That's 15th in the major leagues among starters, just below Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, last year's Cy Young Award winner, and a bit ahead of luminaries like Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants and Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners. It's also ahead of Johan Santana.

What accounts for the discrepancy between process and results? Gee's batting average on balls in play, .294, is right around the league average. But Gee is a ground ball pitcher, and the New York defensive infield has been atrocious. So the emergence of a frontline starter has been masked as a result.

Nevertheless, the Mets have in Dillon Gee, and Friday night's starter, Jonathon Niese, two solid pitchers. As long as they, and fifth starter Chris Young, stay healthy, the Mets will have one of the most enviable rotations in the National League.

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