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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 [1] here noting that advanced stats strongly suggested he would regress: He had a 3.08 ERA but an xFIP [2] of 4.74, and he’d held opponents to a .233 batting average on balls in play (BABIP [3]), 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 [4]. 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.