Dillon Gee wasn’t supposed to be here. Neither was Justin Turner. Or Jason Pridie. Or Ruben Tejada. Willie Harris wasn’t supposed to start. Daniel Murphy wasn’t supposed to play first.
Yet the Mets still won, beating the surprising Charlie Morton and the relatively surprising Pittsburgh Pirates with a flurry of singles and overcoming their usual woes with runners in scoring position. For all the times the Pirates have haunted us at their ballpark, their fans aren’t thrilled about having to play here either — the Bucs are now 0-8 at Citi Field.
Sure it’s the unassuming Pirates, but we’re not exactly world-beaters ourselves right now, and stripping the lineup of David Wright, Ike Davis was bad enough without also removing Jose Reyes, home because his grandmother died. Without Reyes, the Mets are … what, exactly? Comical? Pathetic? Anonymous? Underwhelming?
(I could have noted the absence of Jason Bay, given a planned day off, but the Jason Bay whose absence would be notable hasn’t existed since 2009. The one we got hasn’t done anything in particular to arouse our ire — he’s said the right things and tried his hardest — but he hasn’t done much of anything else, either.)
But the Bisons and CompleMetary players did enough, led by solid work from Turner, Murph and Tejada, with signs of life (including a startlingly good running catch) from Angel Pagan and a big hit from Josh Thole.
And then there was Gee.
Gee isn’t exactly a striking mound presence: In terms of his windup, stuff and build he’s basically your generic pitcher. You could call him a Rick Reed type — a guy who needs to mix up his pitches and hit his spots to be successful. But then most second-tier pitchers are Rick Reed types — if they’ve got multiple pitches working, mix them up effectively and have good location, they can undress any lineup on any given night. But such nights are rare — most of the time, they have to contend with a pitch or two that’s hard to harness, or they’re missing in one direction or the other, or the hitters and scouts have been poring over video and processing the ever-increasing amount of data about them and discovered a pattern or a tell or some other flaw to exploit. And, indeed, Gee junked his slider after Chris Snyder massacred one in the first inning, getting by for the rest of the night with fastballs and change-ups. First-tier pitchers armed with better stuff have a bigger margin for error and can often shove aside such obstacles, winning despite themselves. Second-tier guys can’t, which is why so few Rick Reed types are actually Rick Reed. (To say nothing of being Greg Maddux.)
Gee is now 5-0, which makes the question of his regression pretty much a when, not an if. And indeed, BABIP and xFIP strongly suggest that he’s been very lucky in his first 15 career starts — coming into tonight, his xFIP was 4.74 (compared with a 3.08 ERA) and his BABIP was an flashing red .233. The usual range for BABIP is .290 to .310 — Reed’s career BABIP was .284, while Maddux’s was .281. (To complete the dip into advanced stats, Reed posted a 4.03 career ERA and a 4.36 xFIP, while Maddux’s career ERA was 3.16 and his xFIP was 3.73.)
All that tells us we should be wary of getting too excited about Gee, and remember that if we reach for unquantifiable terms in describing players, we’re quite possibly trying to imbue statistical noise with greater meaning. But then some Rick Reed types succeed — and it doesn’t seem like too much of a reach to note that Gee seems like a smart pitcher who doesn’t complicate things unnecessarily or let bad luck get to him. When he hits a run of it — as the stats all but guarantee he will — we’ll learn more about him, and have a better idea of how much his intangibles were just our wishful thinking and storytelling. But a less lucky Dillon Gee could still be useful. Here’s hoping.