When it comes to identifying the next fantasy baseball breakout players, Mr. Cheatsheet’s method helps narrow the field. I use a data-driven method to filter the draft pool to a small number of potential sleepers that are worthy of deeper consideration. When I look for undervalued pitchers, there are a few statistical benchmarks that I identified as being good ways to identify the pitchers who should be among the best in a luck-neutral world. While we know that pitchers like Justin Verlander should be in there, these benchmarks also identify some unheralded pitchers each year which can be found at a much cheaper price tag in your drafts. Based on past years, those unheralded pitchers often stand a good chance of being breakout players. Today, we’ll look at one of the players that is on the list for 2013 and we’ll see if Dillon Gee (SP, NYM) has what it takes to be a real sleeper.
Why He’s Here
Dillon Gee was not an early round draft pick by the Mets as he was taken in the 21st round back in 2007. Throughout his first year and half in their minor league system, he was posting some ridiculous numbers which eventually resulted in an all-star award in 2008. Despite posting a sub-3.00 ERA, the concern was that his pitching style would not translate to MLB success as he lacked a dominating fastball. Gee wouldn’t let that get him down and he continued to show promise as he rose up the ranks. He garnered some attention when he set his AAA team’s record for strikeouts in 2010 (despite having his worst season by ERA standards).
That season, he got a shot at the majors and delivered a nice ERA over four starts but very poor strikeout and walk numbers. That was very dissimilar to his minor league career where his K/BB ratio was his best asset. He was able to break camp with the team in 2011 and started the whole season for the Mets. However, he only delivered fairly average results with a 4.43 ERA, 6.4 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9. That did nothing to excite the fantasy baseball world and he was on the road to Mediocre Pitcher Land.
In 2012, he was tabbed as a starter for the Mets again but delivered very different results. Suddenly, he was striking out more and walking less (8.0 K/9, 2.4 BB/9) and his xFIP and SIERA were both around 3.50 after 17 starts and 109 innings. But, his season ended early when he had a blood clot in his shoulder and he elected for surgery to remove it. As a result, we didn’t get to see that full season of the new-and-improved Dillon Gee which is why he’s still being relatively ignored in drafts (250 ADP) coming into 2013. Those question marks but also that potential to continue his breakout are what make him a possible narco candidate for the year ahead.
Why He Might Fail
The major knock on Gee has been the lack of a dominating fastball and that hasn’t changed despite his better season in 2012. He’s a right-handed pitcher with a fastball that barely tops out at 90 MPH; those are not the typical tools for success in the MLB. Gee was at his best at the Single-A level of the minors where he posted a 2.99 ERA and had a 5.4 K/BB ratio. But, without a dominating fastball, it comes as no surprise that he struggled more as he rose up in the minors, posting a 4.47 ERA in Triple-A. He may have been striking out a lot of batters in Triple-A but his walk rate was also going up too. Once in the majors, that walk rate continue to grow and his ERA looked more similar to his Triple-A numbers than his Single-A numbers. Unfortunately, his affinity for letting up the home run ball has also been an issue as he has continued to average around one home run per 9 innings while transitioning the majors.
He started to see some success in 2012 but it was only over 17 starts and there’s many more starts from previous years that show evidence of him being a fairly average pitcher. That gets coupled with the fact that his season ended with his scary blood clot issue. It was an injury that prevented him from even being able to throw for a few months. While they are lucky to have caught the clot early on, the clot can sometimes be the sign of further damage ahead.
Why He Might Come Through
Gee’s minor league career had some ups and down if you look at his ERA alone but, as we know, that doesn’t tell the whole story. In the year he broke the strikeout record in Triple-A, he had a 4.96 ERA but posted a 4.01 FIP and a 4.0 K/BB ratio (which would be among the tops in the majors, for reference). He was showing the statistical peripherals that go along with being a good major league starter. In addition, the scouts seemed to notice as BaseballAmerica gave him the designation of having the Best Control in the Mets minor league system in two of his three ML years and they awarded him Best Changeup in all three years.
In Gee’s first season and a half of pitching in the majors, the stats didn’t quite look like his minor league numbers. In 2012, he started to regain that magic though and showed great control and strikeout ability despite his slower fastball. He changed his repertoire a little bit in 2012 versus 2011 as he threw his fastball less and threw his slider and curveball much more with his slider being particularly effective. That change seemed to make a big difference. Gee’s 2012 season only really boasted two bad games and he posted a 3.11 ERA in his 15 of his 17 starts (removing those two bad games). With his style of pitching, he generates a lot of swinging strikes and has shown good control in limiting walks as well. He can’t control luck factors, as we’ve seen, but he has shown the elements required of being a solid major league pitcher
The shoulder injury sounds scary for a pitcher at first but keep in mind that this was an elective surgery and other pitchers have returned in a few months from the injury. The surgery happened in July and he will have had more than enough recovery time to return at full strength in 2013. Much like every player in the world is optimistic this time of year, Gee claims that the surgery will only help him in the year ahead.
The only major blemish on his record is a sub-par 2011 season in the majors. The stats he posted in 2011 do not look like the numbers he was posting in the minors. On the flipside, the 2012 season looked much more promising and much more similar to his minor league stats. In 2013, it’s not a stretch at all to say that he has the potential to post a line of: 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8 K/9. For a point of reference, those would be similar to the numbers of Mat Latos, who is being drafted 130 spots ahead of Gee. The concern about Gee missing half of last season shouldn’t cause fear in drafters as it was due to a preventative surgery that he’s had more than enough time to recover from. If you can look past his 2011 numbers then you’re a step ahead of the rest of your league. You should confidently look at Gee as a sleeper pitcher to target in the later rounds of your draft.