The Mets are banking on Dillon Gee
Tuesday night was not a good one for Dillon Gee.
The New York Mets' starting pitcher lasted just three innings, allowing ten hits and seven runs to the Philadelphia Phillies, including three home runs, in an 8-3 defeat. It was the shortest outing of Gee's career.
But if the Mets want to follow a path to relevance suggested by Matt Harvey's immediate dominance and the promise of prospects Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud, in-house players like Dillon Gee have to be key contributors, given ownership's financial inability to add talent from outside.
After the game, manager Terry Collins described Gee's command in stark terms.
"It was quite obvious he didn't make any pitches when he needed to," Collins said. "A lot of balls were up in the zone. The replays even on the scoreboard, after he'd give up a hit they'd show the replay of it, I mean, he'd miss his target by two feet. He tried to go down and away to Mayberry and left it up and in for the home run. It's just one of those nights for him."
For a pitcher like Gee, command is critical. Gee's fastball has historically hovered around 90 miles per hour, to go along with a changeup at 82, occasional slider at 80, and very occasional curveball at 72. But basically, he's a fastball/changeup pitcher who needs to his his spots.
That kept him from being much of a prospect. The Mets drafted him in the 21st round back in 2007, and despite stellar debuts at lower levels, Baseball America left him off the Mets' top 30 in 2009, and placed him at 23 in 2010. John Sickels, less tools-centered in his projections than Baseball America, had him as a C+ prospect in 2009 and C in 2010, projecting him for middle relief, or best-case, back of the rotation.
Gee came back from a slight labrum tear to pitch a full season at Triple-A in 2010, putting up solid peripherals but posting an undistinguished 4.96 E.R.A. Pressed into action for the 2011 Mets, he won 13 games, but that is highly misleading; he pitched to a 4.43 E.R.A., right in line with the expectations for a pitcher striking out just 6.4 per nine and walking four per nine. Without an improvement in his peripherals, Gee wasn't a good bet to be a reliable rotation member.
Accordingly, his 2012 was revelatory. He cut his walks to 2.4 per nine, and despite his mediocre stuff, struck out a solid 8 per nine. His E.R.A. was 4.10, but his x.F.I.P., a more accurate reflection of how he was pitching, was just 3.54. It appeared the Mets had developed a mid-rotation pitcher, at just 26, and cost-controlled for years.
Then came the frightening blood clot in his shoulder, an injury that ended his season and required surgery. He came to camp this spring and pitched normally, but for those keeping score, that's two shoulder injuries of significance over four seasons. And while it is early to draw any conclusions about velocity, he's at just 87.5 from his fastball through two starts. It is hard to imagine Gee succeeding at that speed, even if his command returns shortly.
It isn't that Gee is certain to fail. But he has many questions, and yet the Mets' plan relies to a disproportionate extent on him becoming the very most anyone can project for him. The idea behind a Mets' 2014 renaissance roughly goes like this: Harvey continues as he's been pitching and stays healthy, Wheeler comes up and joins him at both a similar level of effectiveness and health, d'Arnaud does the same at catcher, David Wright loses nothing as he heads into his 30s, Ike Davis maintains his 2012 second-half performance, Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy stay steady, all of them stay healthy, an outfield materializes from somewhere, as does a bullpen, and Gee and Niese provide rotation depth.
Some of these assumptions are optimistic in the extreme. Outfields don't just materialize, Field of Dreams-style. And pitchers like Matt Harvey, fully formed, healthy and dominant from day one, are remarkably rare; the Mets are essentially banking on lightning striking twice with Wheeler.
But even if Wheeler is Koosman to Harvey's Seaver, and d'Arnaud is Johnny Bench, the Mets still need to put a team around them, which is where pitchers like Gee come in, since the other significant Mets pitching prospects, like Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard, are some time away. Adding a third or fourth starter in the meantime is a normal expense for most teams; the Mets, thanks to ownership, are not most teams.
And so Gee's starts should carry with them an appropriate level of anticipation. More than just Matt Harvey needs to go right for the Mets to contend once again; in an organization banking on purely internal solutions, Dillon Gee is a key part of the plan to contend, too.