By now we’re used to Dillon Gee. We don’t think “My goodness, Dillon Gee is starting — I better clear my calendar.” We don’t barrage Twitter with our top-shelf material. We don’t rotate in a cheeky/blasphemous cover image for our Facebook page. It’s just Dillon Gee, after all.
Maybe we’re a little too used to Dillon Gee.
Gee was a prime candidate for demotion/dismissal/getting stuffed down the memory hole back in late May, when Zack Wheeler was trapped at Las Vegas. And it was hard to argue with that: Gee had lost a good chunk of 2012 to a blood clot in his shoulder, the same injury that once felled David Cone as a Yankee, and was now sporting a 6.34 ERA.
So what did Gee do? He went out and annihilated the Yankees, striking out 12 over 7 1/3. Counting that game, since then he’s 6-2 with a 2.42 ERA. So what was wrong? In the early going, the red light was that he’d lost a few ticks off his fastball, which reduced the spread in velocity between that pitch and his change-up, long his out pitch. (See this nice breakdown by Amazin’ Avenue here.) Looking at AA’s take, I figured Gee’s fastball velocity must have gone up since then — he’d either built up his arm strength after the layoff, put aside the understandable worries about letting it go, or both. And Gee’s average fastball velocity has improved, though not as much as I figured. (See here, pausing to admire the otherworldliness of Matt Harvey’s arsenal.)
Maybe it’s just taking a while for Gee to get that FB number up. Maybe he’s just having better luck — his early-season numbers suggested he was somewhat snakebit. The Mets’ improved defense certainly hasn’t hurt. Whatever the case, Gee’s back to being what he’s been for a while: pretty reliable, better than you think and easy to overlook. Today he made one bad pitch all afternoon — the one Corey Dickerson crushed over the fence in the fourth — though he did get lucky in the first, when DJ LeMahieu unwisely ran Colorado out of an inning.
Cases like Gee’s always remind me that baseball, despite billing itself as results-oriented, is a precarious game of reputations and prejudices. Gee is your basic mix-and-match guy who relies on changing speeds and hitting spots — the template for most pitchers who aren’t Matt Harvey. Thanks to his Olympian genetics, Harvey will get every single chance to make good on his abilities so long as his arm holds up. Because of his comparably modest gifts, Gee will not: A lot had to go right for him to get to the big leagues and stick there, and even now a poor run of early-season starts made him a candidate for the knacker’s yard.
There’s more of that in baseball than we think. What if, say, R.A. Dickey hadn’t had that near no-hitter in Buffalo when the Mets had needed a starting pitcher? What if his knuckler had been uncooperative in his first start for the Mets? What about all the guys whose modest stature, strange arm angle or other perceived shortcoming kept them from getting innings in A-ball, leaving their talent to atrophy and their professional career to crumble?
It’s a game of inches, yes. It’s also a game of assumptions, some of which get challenged and some of which don’t. And some of which have to be challenged over and over again.