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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Being Wrong, Being Right, Being Happy

Recent events suggest I was wrong about Dillon Gee. Recent events suggest I was right about Ruben Tejada. Both of these things make me happy.

That’s the fun of being a sports fan — it’s fun to be right, but sometimes you’re wrong and it makes you the happiest person in the room.

Last year Gee got off to a 5-0 start, which led to a rather anguished post here noting that advanced stats strongly suggested he would regress: He had a 3.08 ERA but an xFIP of 4.74, and he’d held opponents to a .233 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), a sign of trouble given that the usual range is around .290 to .310. Granted, you don’t have to be a statistical wizard to guess a 5-0 pitcher is due for a fall, but those stats basically said balls hit off Gee weren’t finding holes at nearly the same rate one would expect.

Gee finished with a rather neat 13-6 record, but his other numbers did indeed suggest a regression to the mean. His ERA ballooned to 4.46, winding up in line with his xFIP of 4.43, while his BABIP for the year wound up at .270 — still low, but up quite a bit from .233. This year, understandably, few expected an enormous amount from him, whether they were fans who like to crunch advanced stats and saw a guy whose stats didn’t suggest a 13-6 record or trust-my-eyes fans who saw a young pitcher who got tired late and faltered.

So what’s happened in 2012? Well, going into today’s game against the Cubs Gee had a pedestrian 5-7 record and a 4.34 ERA. Those advanced stats still forecast a regression to the mean, but this time it was in Gee’s favor: His xFIP stood at 3.46, while his BABIP was .303. (Quick translation: Stone gloves behind him.) Other peripherals, meanwhile, suggested a pitcher learning his craft: In 2011 Gee struck out 6.39 guys per nine innings while walking 3.98; going into tonight he’d struck out 8.23 and walked 2.57. Better by a good margin, and another indicator of future success.

One afternoon doesn’t tell the story of anything but one afternoon, but Gee was terrific: One run over eight innings on a hideously hot day, seven hits (six singles and a double), no walks, four Ks, one win. He carved the Cubs up with his fastball and change, and showed enough of his curveball to keep it an effective weapon despite battling for consistency with it.

Like I said, when it comes to baseball, being wrong can be wonderful.

As for Tejada, I touted him as an Edgardo Alfonzo type when that took some imagination, but it feels like every day he makes the comparison seem more apt — he fields his position more smoothly (dare I say it) than a certain beloved ex-Met with Predator dreads, has a precocious eye for the strike zone and a knack for working counts, and is the Met I most want up down by one with the tying run in scoring position. (Though he does have to stop crossing from second to third on balls hit to shortstops.) No, he doesn’t have Edgardo’s power, but neither did Edgardo in his first couple of seasons. It’ll come.

Today Tejada was 2 for 4 at the plate with a run scored, but it was his Rey Ordonez impression that made you leap off your couch: In the ninth, Bobby Parnell started off by allowing a double to Anthony Rizzo, got Alfonso Soriano to fly out deep to center, and then battled Bryan LaHair through a long at-bat. On the ninth pitch, LaHair hit a little parachute that was clearly destined to land in the undefinable space bordered by the responsibilities of the left fielder, center fielder and shortstop. The Cubs would have the tying run on second with one out, and who knows? But there was Tejada, back to the infield, letting his instincts guide him to the right place — and then flinging his glove out to corral LaHair’s ball as he crashed to the ground. Parnell pumped his fist. Tejada settled for a little nod, a gunfighter who’d done his duty.

I won’t say I’m surprised, because I was sure Tejada would grow both physically and instinctually. But I sure am pleased.

Like I said, when it comes to baseball, being right can be wonderful.

15 comments to Being Wrong, Being Right, Being Happy

  • The Dillon Gees of the world are proof that games are played by people not by numbers. Quaint? Perhaps, but any numbers guy will tell it’s about results. I’ll take a guy who gets people out in the majors than a guy with numbers and potential that never see the outside of Binghamton.

    • Well, everybody’s proof that the games are played by people not numbers. ;-)

      What’s interesting, at least to me, is the numbers were pointing at why Gee’s success seemed unlikely to last then, just as they’re now suggesting he’s improving and due for some better luck. The numbers weren’t “lying” then and they’re telling an interesting story now — and it’s a very human one.

      To me, numbers don’t wreck the game in the slightest. They illuminate human stories that can get obscured or confused because of confirmation bias, selective memory, hoary traditions or other things that distort what we think we see and what we remember and then shape what we expect. To me, that makes baseball even more interesting to watch and listen to and think about, not less.

  • Andee

    Sometimes players work their butts off and defy everyone’s expectations of them, it’s true. Mike Piazza was a notorious example of this, and R.A. Dickey certainly is, too. I do sometimes wonder how many potentially excellent (or even simply useful) players are overlooked because they don’t have the “prospect look.”

    But the metrics on Gee from last year were an accurate depiction of what was likely to happen to him later that season; they’re not set in stone for an entire career. You can see that with Bobby Parnell, too, that he has dramatically improved his command this year over last year. Diagnostic tools in baseball are like diagnostic tools in medicine; they’ll tell you something potentially useful, but they can’t predict everything. But it’s better than knowing nothing at all, right?

    • This brings up a good point about intangibles. Stats probably can’t predict a knuckleballer’s breakout, because a lot of that is a function of craft — learning to kill the pitch’s spin, throw it the same way over and over again, etc. I’d think the same would be true of refining a secondary pitch in winter ball, clicking with a new pitching coach who moves a pitcher to the other side of the rubber, scrapping the windup, etc. Such a thing isn’t a flaw of statistical approaches to the game, though — you’re talking about a pitcher evolving/refining his technique.

      Similarly, I think one of the most interesting stories of the year was Jon Niese getting hauled into a skull session with Johan, Dickey and Warthen and essentially told a) you need to do your homework and b) here’s how you do it. He’s been a different pitcher since then. To me, that’s an intangible worth exploring and trying to understand — and I think any fan who loves advanced stats would agree. The intangibles that make me crazy are the Just So stories — that Player X “knows how to win,” “is a leader,” “rises to the occasion,” and all the other lazy generalities.

  • Keith

    Presumably a Pitcher who gets guys out in the majors will have good numbers. So I’m not even sure what your comment means. In Gee’s case, the numbers have been predictive of future performance.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    (dare I say it)

    Dare all you want, I’ve been thinking the same thing for at least the past month. And we’re only 1/2 a season into the no-Reyes/Development of Tejada era. Just think about how good that non-signing will look two or three years from now.

    • Jacobs27

      It’s a testament to Tejada’s fielding that when he does have his occasional hiccups they seem out of the ordinary now. Who knows, he may even be rubbing off on Murph, who’s looked better lately. Tejada doesn’t have the same cannon that that Reyes had a short, but he doesn’t seem to need it. Given how young he is, and how much he seems to be continually improving, he could end up being a real defensive whiz down the road.

      Offensively, it’s hard to compare him with Jose, they have such different strengths. But if he keeps putting together quality at-bats like this, day in and day out, in pressure situations, even if his power never develops, he’s a vital presence in the line up. Maybe not quite exciting in the way Reyes was, but reassuring in a way so few of the Mets not named David Wright are. And that’s saying something for such a young hitter.

  • Tejada’s catch DID cause me to leap off my cousin’s couch in Long Beach. It also made my 19-year-old niece squeal, seeing as “Te-Hottie” is her current heartthrob.

  • sturock

    Agree fully on Tejada. Letting Reyes walk may turn out to be a turning point of sorts as Ruben’s hitting style seems to fit in more with the work-the-count bent of the 2012 team. He’s also one of the few good gloves we throw out there and has a “baseball IQ” beyond his years.

    By the way, all those qualities could be attributed to Alfonzo as well. I wonder, though, about Fonzie’s power burst and whether it was PED-aided, you know, the time being late 90’s-early 00’s and all. We may never see that kind of pop from Tejada, but as long as that OBP stays high, that’s not a problem.

  • Will in Central NJ

    It’s heartening to see contributions from up and down the roster. All orange and blue hands on deck!