The Jailbreak is a new feature, where without warning I'll just jump in with a "quick" post about something or someone that is worth talking about. And it's named after one of my favorite scouting terms. Double bonus.
You've probably heard me talk about holy trinity candidates before, but for those of you new to the concept, I will give you the quick, quick version. The three most important things a pitcher can do to mitigate his downside risk is to get strikeouts, limit walks and induce ground balls. A pitcher who achieves the holy trinity, has a K/9 rate above 7.0, a BB/9 below 2.5 and a ground ball rate above 50%. Last year, this list was 3 players long: Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Jaime Garcia. This year, there are four players currently qualified for the ERA title which fit this designation -- Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright, Edwin Jackson and...
Possibly known more for his ridiculous choice of facial hair than his prowess on the mound, Dillon Gee of the New York Metropolitans is quietly putting up great peripherals over the first month and change of the season. A cursory glance at his fantasy stats will show a 4.50 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and 8.2 K/9. Not too different from his 2011 stats, you say? Well, on that level, sure. In 2011, Gee had a 4.43 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 6.4 K/9. The strikeout rate is the only thing here that's noticeable, and a noticeable jump that is. Over a 180 inning season, that's 34 strikeouts. But this isn't the interesting part.
That comes after the jump..
It's what's going on behind the obvious numbers that makes Gee more than just a nice talking point for a post. Let's start with "first level" stats. Gee's BB% decreased from 11.0% in 2010 to 10.2% in 2011; however, this is like saying you're going to go on a diet by cutting down your daily donut intake from seven to six. In 2012, Gee's BB% is 5.8% -- now that's a big improvement. Consequently, with the aforementioned increase in strikeouts, his K/BB rate has now gone from 1.13 to 1.61 to 3.63 over this period. Same with his ground ball rate, which has gone from 47.0% to 47.4% to 53.8% during the same span. All of these factors culminate in Gee's xFIP which has similarly gone from 5.00 to 4.46 to 3.10, which is good for 15th among ERA qualifiers.
Now, for the "second level", I wanted to take a look at Gee's pitch selection to see if there's a pattern here which might give these changes in his stats a better chance to stick. Turns out, there is (thanks to brooksbaseball.net). In 2011, Gee threw an 87.2 MPH cutter approximately 9% of the time and an 81.3 MPH slider approximately 1% of the time. Why is this important? So far in 2012, he's thrown an 84.6 MPH cutter approximately 9% of the time and an 83.1 MPH slider approximately 8% of the time. Whether this is really the same pitch getting classified in different ways isn't that important -- what's important is that his slider/cutter combination has been awesome. Not only is this combo getting swinging strikes at an 18% clip (compared to 8.5% in 2011), but it also has generated ground balls for Gee at the same rate as his sinker (~53%) -- so the more he throws either one appears to be a big positive for his fantasy owners.
Of course there's SSS smothered all over this, as we're still only five starts into the season, but Gee will definitely be a guy I have my eye on over the course of May. According to FanGraphs, it takes 150 plate appearances against for pitcher ground ball rates and strikeout rates to stabilize, and Gee's at 137 right now. So in reality, we may be closer to knowing whether he is playing tricks on us or if there's legitimacy to his improvement.
Follow me on Twitter at @tfw_bret