Dillon Gee has received zero press as a fantasy sleeper so far this off-season, so I'm taking matters into my own hands.
I've made no secret of the fact that I am a believer in the holy trinity, as it relates to pitching. For those of you unaware of what this means, here's an excerpt about it from the first post I wrote for Fake Teams (about Jaime Garcia):
There are three ways for a pitcher to make himself valuable both from a real-life and fantasy perspective without the baggage of luck or surroundings. First, he must be able to miss bats -- this obviously brings strikeouts from a fantasy perspective, but also helps reduce ERA. Second, he has to limit his free passes -- this has a large effect on a pitcher's WHIP and wins as a by-product since it will allow him to go deeper into games. Finally, he has to keep the ball on the ground -- fewer fly balls = fewer HR allowed and more double plays = better ERA and chance for wins. Any pitcher who does at least one of these things well can be a major leaguer. Just two of these qualities is enough to be a star, but the pitchers who can do all three are the ones who are special because they have the most amount of control over their downside risk.
We're going to use a BB/9 rate of 2.5, a K/9 rate of 7.0 and a ground ball rate of 50% to signify a pitcher who is "above average" in these pitching segments.
And I'm sure you can tell where I'm going with this now. In 2012, there were six pitchers who threw at least 100 innings and qualified for holy trinity status: Adam Wainwright, James Shields, Kris Medlen, Doug Fister, the aforementioned Jaime Garcia and Dillon Gee. Clearly, Gee is the name that jumps out at you from this list, as the rest of the pitchers are much better thought of when it comes to fantasy. Even Garcia, who had a forgettable year, was a top-50 SP in ADP last season. But Gee, he's not even on the radar.
When we ranked the top-100 starting pitchers for 2013 here at Fake Teams (which you've seen this week), Gee did not make the list. In fact, I was the only one of the four of us who ranked him. I've also not seen a single thing written about him on any sites I frequent during the off-season. I had thought that everyone on the planet had forgotten about Dillon Gee until I participated in the Rotoworld mock draft last month. I had Gee all queued up to take in the 24th round (of 26 total), as he was one of the important targets on my list. Unfortunately, with the pick directly in front of me, D.J. Short grabbed him. So there's at least one other person on the planet who remembers Dillon Gee.
A 21st round draft pick out of Texas-Arlington in 2007, Gee was not very highly thought of coming up through the minor leagues. He's never ranked as a top-15 prospect in a weak Mets farm system by either Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus. Gee was a guy who got by on pitchability. He had above-average control, an above-average change-up and not much else. Unfortunately, the word most used to describe his arsenal in old scouting reports was "fringy". He was sitting 88-91 with his fastball and did not have even an average breaking ball. There are a ton of guys like this in the minor leagues, and the vast majority of them fail to the point that they never even make it to the majors.
But something happened on Gee's way to obscurity. First, he had a fluky good five-start stretch for the Mets in 2010 (2-2 with a 2.18 ERA, but a 17-15 K/BB rate in 33 IP) after putting up a 4.96 ERA in 161 1/3 IP in the International League. This gave him an opportunity the following season, and he ate a lot of innings for the Mets (160 2/3) at near-replacement level, at least on the surface. Through the end of July, Gee had a 3.69 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 70 K in 107 1/3 IP - but he couldn't hold it through the remainder of the season, as he admittedly battled fatigue until he was shut down on September 24. Mike Pelfrey's terribleness (and subsequent injury) gave Gee another shot at the Mets' rotation out of Spring Training in 2012, which he took advantage of.
Gee's final 2012 stat line isn't going to wow anyone into submission. He finished the 2012 season at 6-7 with a 4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 97 K in 109 2/3 IP. The strikeouts are nice, but they're just about the only thing that even causes you to take a second look. However, if you look at his K/BB rate, you'll notice that it's greatly improved over the past three seasons (1.13 in 2010, 1.61 in 2011, 3.34 in 2012). This jump in 2012 brought his levels much closer to what he had put up in the minor leagues - in 437 2/3 career minor league innings, his K/BB rate was 4.06.
What was happening under the surface was that this pitchability guy was actually adding stuff as he went along. His once fringy fastball jumped up to average 90.4 MPH in 2011, and took another uptick in 2012 to 90.9 MPH. This improved velocity (though it only bumped him up to average), allowed his secondary pitches to play up - and he had a new one to bring to the table. In 2011, he threw his slider 35 times in 160+ IP and it was not a good pitch. In fact, he didn't record one swing and miss with it that entire season. In 2012, he threw it 249 times in 109 2/3 IP and it was worth 4 runs above average. This time, he got 40 swings and misses.
And his original strengths, his command and change-up surfaced as real weapons for him at the major league level. The command showed itself in an interesting manner. While his walk rate decreased from 10.1% to 6.3%, he was throwing more pitches out of the zone than ever before in his career. He was able to accomplish this by getting both more swings and less contact outside the zone - which is a great combination, if you can pull it off. With another secondary pitch under his belt, his change-up became an even more effective weapon. In fact, he got more whiffs/swing on his change than Clay Buchholz, James Shields or Justin Verlander in 2012.
The unfortunate part of all of this was that Gee ended up sidelined with a blood clot in his shoulder before the 2012 All-Star break, and was limited to less than 110 innings. He had surgery in July to remedy this and by all reports, should be good to go for Spring Training. The return from any surgery, especially on the shoulder, can be tricky, but the procedure was not the typical shoulder surgery associated with pitchers - it was to widen an artery, not repair a rotator cuff.
While he's unlikely to hold much value in shallow mixed leagues, Gee is a name that you should store in the back of your head for deeper mixed and NL-only formats. If he can carry forward the underlying skills he showed in 2012, which are backed by a real change in his stuff and repertoire, he should see an uptick in his raw numbers. Despite missing the last three months of the 2012 season, Gee was still the #109 SP on the ESPN Player Rater. If he's healthy in Spring Training, there's no reason he can't put up a Jon Niese-type season for 2013 - especially since Gee bested Niese in both FIP (3.71 to 3.81) and xFIP (3.54 to 3.64) during 2012.
My way-too-early 2013 prediction for Dillon Gee: 11 wins, 3.76 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 152 K in 188 IP.