How Good Can Gee Be?

- First of all, he’s been remarkably good, better than anyone could have imagined.  He’s allowed just one run in his first 13 MLB innings over two starts.  In his final 26 starts at AAA, he did not have a single pair of starts in which he allowed as few as one run over 13 innings.

- There is precedent for this in Gee’s season: he began 2010 by shutting out the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees for 13 over two two consecutive starts.  In those 13 innings he struck out 12 and walked one.

- In Gee’s 13 MLB innings against the Pirates and Nationals: 7 walks and 7 strikeouts.

- He’s faced two below average offenses, one dreadful and one somewhere in pretty bad-range.  The Pirates are second-to-last in MLB in Baseball Prospectus’ True Average at .244, better only than the Mariners, while the Nationals are 17th at .261.  According to Fangraphs, measuring Batting Runs Above Average, agrees on both counts, placing the Pirates better only than the Mariners, an amazing -99.8 below average, but thinks the Nationals at -22.7 are 21st in baseball.

- His BABIP through two starts: .153 (6 H/39 AB).

- The question is not whether Gee will regress, the question is how far he will regress.
– I think his ceiling is as a back-end starting pitcher.  That’s nothing to scoff at.  But why?  Pretty simple.  His fastball sat at 89 miles per hour on Monday night.  According to Gameday, he hit 91 five times, four times in the first inning and once in the third.  He threw 90 fifteen other times, just five times after the third inning.  Here is Gee’s fastball speed by inning.

Inning # of pitches Mean Median
1 14 89.7 90
2 10 88.8 89
3 9 89.1 89
4 9 89.2 89
5 16 88.8 89
6 10 88.2 88
Totals 68 89 89

- There are 24 right-handed pitchers in Major League Baseball with enough innings to qualify for the league leader boards with an average fastball below 91 mph.  Here they are:


ERA FIP xFIP FB Velo
1 Livan

Hernandez

3.82 3.93 4.81 84.50
2 David Bush 4.59 5.23 4.94 86.50
3 Shaun

Marcum

3.58 3.79 3.89 87.00
4 Freddy Garcia 4.88 4.89 4.64 87.80
5 Bronson

Arroyo

4.09 4.74 4.80 88.10
6 Doug

Fister

3.84 3.47 4.21 88.30
7 Rodrigo

Lopez

5.13 5.27 4.76 88.30
8 Derek

Lowe

4.42 4.22 3.91 88.40
9 Javier

Vazquez

5.09 5.36 4.80 88.70
10 Ian

Kennedy

3.87 4.34 4.30 89.30
11 Brett

Myers

2.91 3.37 3.75 89.40
12 Joe

Blanton

5.15 4.36 4.23 89.50
13 Kevin

Slowey

4.24 3.98 4.54 89.60
14 Randy

Wells

4.61 4.11 4.10 89.70
15 Kyle

Kendrick

4.85 5.11 4.86 89.80
16 Jered

Weaver

3.06 3.12 3.53 89.90
17 Jon

Garland

3.52 4.61 4.50 90.00
18 Colby

Lewis

3.82 3.68 3.97 90.10
19 Jeremy

Bonderman

5.03 4.47 4.39 90.10
20 Carl

Pavano

3.47 3.73 3.94 90.20
21 Trevor

Cahill

2.61 4.15 4.22 90.30
22 Kevin

Correia

5.46 4.74 4.19 90.30
23 Dan

Haren

4.09 3.77 3.69 90.60
24 Jake

Westbrook

4.41 4.40 4.11 90.70
Sample AVG 4.19 4.29 4.30 89.05
Standard Deviation 0.77 0.62 0.41 1.48

This is a biased group: to accumulate the number of innings to count as qualified, a guy must be doing something to pick up all the opportunity to pitch.  He could actually be pretty good (Weaver, Myers, Fister, Haren), or have been pretty good in the past (Lowe, Arroyo), or have a big money contract, or be young and cheap (Wells, Cahill) or be some combination of these.
I confess to being surprised to see Bonderman on this list.  He averaged 92+ in each of his first five seasons from ’03-07, but his velocity has not been the same since, and apparently, I haven’t watched a lot of regular season Detroit Tigers baseball.

Lets toss out the extremes on the low end of the velo scale like Livan and Bush, and establish a cutoff of an average of 90 mph on the top end to focus in on guys whose velocity is actually similar to Gee’s.
Now we’re dealing with 13 pitchers, now ranked instead of by fastball velocity, by 2010 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) which calculates a pitcher’s value based only on walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed and is scaled to match ERA, which in the big leagues this year has a 4.10 average.  By FIP five of these guys are average or better, and eight are below.
This is the group that Gee hopes to join.

ERA FIP xFIP FB Velo
Jered
Weaver
3.06 3.12 3.53 89.90
Brett
Myers
2.91 3.37 3.75 89.40
Doug
Fister
3.84 3.47 4.21 88.30
Kevin
Slowey
4.24 3.98 4.54 89.60
Randy
Wells
4.61 4.11 4.10 89.70
Derek
Lowe
4.42 4.22 3.91 88.40
Ian
Kennedy
3.87 4.34 4.30 89.30
Joe
Blanton
5.15 4.36 4.23 89.50
Jon
Garland
3.52 4.61 4.50 90.00
Bronson
Arroyo
4.09 4.74 4.80 88.10
Kyle
Kendrick
4.85 5.11 4.86 89.80
Rodrigo
Lopez
5.13 5.27 4.76 88.30
Javier
Vazquez
5.09 5.36 4.80 88.70
Sample Average 4.21 4.31 4.33 89.15
Standard Deviation 0.76 0.71 0.43 0.69

The best pitcher overall in this group is Jared Weaver.  He throws four pitches and all have positive run values.  Brett Myers is enjoying his best year, but according to friend of the site Josh Smolow, has actually improved as a pitcher and could pitch to his FIP moving forward.

The enormous problem here is with the sample selection.  By looking only at qualified pitchers, I’m skimming hard off the top.  Most right-handers who average 89, don’t stick as big league starters.  We’re looking at the best of the group.  The cause for optimism is that obviously, there are some pitchers in this sample who have pitched for a long time, have contributed to winning teams and even world Series Championship teams.  Garland was the third-best pitcher, by WAR on the 2005 White Sox while Arroyo was the third-best pitcher on the 2004 Red Sox.  The cause for pessimism is that this is a fairly heterogeneous group and again, by selecting only qualified guys, I’m just ignoring the guys who don’t make it.

Can Gee be a back-end starter on a championship caliber team?  He’ll need to keep throwing strikes.  In his first two starts, he’s thrown strikes with 58% of his pitches, a mark below the big league average.  Other major red flags include the number of home runs he allowed in AAA, and the 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio in his first two MLB starts.

Two good starts in September against bad teams does not make a career, or even prove that Gee deserves a rotation spot in 2011.  If he stays in the rotation, and takes every fifth start, his next two starts will be against the Braves and Phillies, teams with real offenses.  Those two starts just got a lot more interesting, yes?

By the way, Gee was a 21st round pick in the 2007 draft, and that alone makes him a major success story already.    The only other members of the Mets ’07 draft class to see big league time: Eddie Kunz (13.50 ERA, 2.2 IP) and Lucas Duda (.034/.152/.069 in 33 PA).

How good can Gee be?  We still don’t know until he 1. pitches against at least an average MLB offense and 2. most importantly, keeps pitching.

There are 4 comments

  1. WC

    End points on what Gee needs to do to succeed all stand, but it seems early to do any kind of analysis of his stuff or trends based on his two games.

    Gee’s had two starts with good results that have been extremely different otherwise. The first start was more obviously more impressive by the numbers. Much higher strike %, and better velocity. Against the Nats, Gee averaged over 90 mph on his fastball, getting up above 93 and only throwing a handful of pitches below 89. It’s a minor quibble, but if you compared his average velocity using his first start you might have set the cutoff velocity for your list of comps slightly higher.

    Saying more data is needed to establish trends is a laughably obvious statement, but still.

  2. stickguy

    I wonder if the workload this year (coming off the injury rehab) could be catching up to him at this point?

    Also, wouldn’t it help if he added a 4th pitch to the arsenal (he is standard FB/change/curve, right?) Maybe a cutter (worked for neise!) or even a split/sinker.

    something to get guys off or change the look of the FB, and give him an out pitch (although with all the AAA ks, he must have been getting fuys with something down there).

    1. Toby Hyde

      Yes, but I left him off, because he’s a knuckler with no UCL who’s performance has absolutely no relevance for a discussion of a guy who throws roughly 75% fastballs like Gee.

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