The Mets are in the midst of an arms race in the National League East, and right now they look like the team that may have the brightest future with Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler, and Jenrry Mejia dazzling in the Major Leagues while Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero are following the very path that Harvey and Wheeler pursued a year ago.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Mets is that they have evolved as a competitive team this season despite losing David Wright for the end of the season and playing with an abysmal Ike Davis in the beginning of the season. Furthermore, the Mets still have a bit more in the cupboard when it comes to pitching.
Jeremy Hefner surprised everyone as one of the most consistent hurlers from mid-May to mid-July. Opening Day starter Jon Niese has recovered from shoulder woes to return to the form that resulted in 24 wins over the last two seasons. The biggest surprise of all though has been Dillon Gee, a 27-year-old right-hander selected by the Mets in the 21st round of the 2007 draft.
To his credit, Gee has been a solid performer since he burst on the Major League level with 13 wins in 2011. The next season he offered a respectable 4.10 ERA and 1.25 WHIP through 17 starts before a major health scare involving a blood clot in his arm required a premature finish to the year.
While there was some concern that Gee would never again pitch, he returned on April 4 with a solid outing at home against the Padres. Gee’s performance was uneven in his first 10 outings, as he lost six of his first eight decisions and saw his ERA reach 6.34 after a loss at home to the Braves. Since that performance, Gee has ranked amongst the top pitchers in the game.
In the 15 starts from May 30 forward, Gee has gone 7-2 with a 2.27 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. The obvious key has been Gee’s resurgence in control, which makes perfect sense considering how much time he missed in 2012:
Gee’s Improved Control
Another key has been circumstance. Gee saw more southpaws than right-handers in his first 10 starts (52% left-handed batters). The lefties teed off on Gee to the tune of a .337 average and .519 slugging percentage. Since then, Gee has faced just 46.5% left-handers, and they are batting a respectable .267 average against him with a .443 slugging.
Next, it has become clear that Gee’s stuff has gotten much better since his rough start. He is throwing harder, deceiving more, and allowing less contact:
Gee’s Better Stuff
To get more specific about Gee’s pitches, you have to remember than unlike Harvey and Wheeler, the veteran right-hander is not armed with a fastball that reaches the high-90s. In fact, even during his recent hot streak, Gee’s fastball has been touched to a .289 average and .472 slugging. Instead, Gee offers an arsenal filled with four pitches including a curveball, slider, and change-up.
The curveball is only used roughly once of every ten pitches. However, it is plenty effective, with a .111 average against over the last 36 at bats ending with the pitch (all four hits were singles). The slider has been used 17% of the time over his last 15 starts and a .237 average over 76 at bats makes this pitch above average. Finally, Gee’s change-up is his money pitch.
The opposition has hit just .137 on the 18% of the time that Gee has turned to the change-up. There has been just one home run against that pitch over the last 73 at bats, and with two strikes on the batter, this is the out-pitch that Gee has mastered.
The big question is whether Gee can sustain his good performance over a full season. The short answer is that he has proven to be significantly better than a fifth starter. Things are looking up for the Mets, and Gee is as big an advantage at the bottom of the rotation as Harvey is at the top.