2014: 1.82 ERA – 1.01 WHIP – 1.3 WAR
Flashy. Fire-balling. Intimidating. Adjectives like these are not the kind of descriptors one generally associates with either Dillon Gee or Jon Niese, but since others along the lines of “intelligent,” “consistent,” and most significantly, “effective” can be accurately applied, perhaps the rest simply do not matter.
As the steadiest members of the Mets’ 2014 rotation, at least to date, the two represent a left/right tandem of workmanlike reliability that has been the primary factor in a start that has been reasonably solid for a team that flat out hasn’t hit a lick.
Representing 40% of the starting corps, the pair, who share a similar professional profile – that of a relatively young (late twenties) veteran with essentially major league average stuff – have formed a backbone for a coalescing staff that will ultimately be better known for featuring arms along the lines of the qualities referenced at the beginning of this piece. But while fans continue to daydream about a rotation that could eventually feature the trio of drool-worthy blazers that includes a healthy Matt Harvey, a more experienced and consistent Zack Wheeler, and an established Noah Syndergaard, the arms that will likely be most responsible for keeping the Mets a viable force in the NL East are the two that are plying their trade at the top of their game right now.
If one were given to flights of hyperbole, comparisons to the Braves vaunted lefty/righty tandem of control specialists, Messrs. Glavine and Maddux, could be evoked, and while it would be quite a leap to place the Met hurlers in the company of that HOF-bound duo, at least some stylistic similarities can be noted. Like the Atlanta pair, both Gee and Niese have honed the art of varying the speeds and locations of their pitches to remarkable effect, and have now reached a point of consistent quality from start to start such that they are in danger of being taken for granted for merely being excellent rather than spectacular. Their recent outings against two of the most formidable clubs to face on the road this season are indicative of their value as steadying forces. Gee’s six innings of shutout ball against the Rockies’ explosive lineup on May 4th allowed the Mets to salvage the final game of what proved to be a brutal series for much of the rest of the staff, and Niese’s brilliant effort against the Marlins the next night (seven scoreless) was marred only by the bullpen’s inability to hold the fort after he left the game.
2014: 2.51 ERA – 1.05 WHIP – 1.2 WAR
While team management has demonstrated their recognition of Niese’s longer term value by signing him to what will likely prove a team-friendly deal prior to the 2012 season (5 years at $25.27 million with team options for 2017 and 2018), Gee’s contract status remains year-to-year at this point. If his performance remains at or near its current level however, it is likely that as he enters his arbitration eligible years the Met brass will move to secure his services under a more clearly delineated arrangement. At the same time, with the likes of Jacob deGrom, Rafael Montero, and the near-mythic Syndergaard all looming on the Met pitching horizon, the sheer reality of numbers comes into to play and raises the ever-present possibility (and inevitability) of a deal being made to both relieve what looks to be a future logjam and to address the ongoing team issues of offense and the bullpen. While both Gee and Niese would be highly attractive trading chips for all the reasons previously described, it seems unlikely that the organization would look to deal its only left-handed starter, leaving Gee as the likely asset to be moved if a veteran were to be dealt.
From my standpoint, I would rather look to deal one of the younger, more potential-oriented arms as the Mets look to be moving into a period of what should be consistent contention. While Gee may not evoke the comparisons and projections that some of his harder throwing roster mates do, his low-key, consummately professional approach is likely to prove an important asset for years to come. For now, the potential of all those great young arms remains just that – potential. If the Mets ever get around to addressing their need at shortstop by way of a trade, it is likely that the attraction of one of those arms may prove necessary to getting a deal done (are you listening Arizona?).
For now, with the season really just underway, we should expect the usual personnel shuffling to occur as the kind of fine tuning that teams typically engage in after a month or so takes place. Perhaps we will see Jenrry Mejia move to short relief or possibly the closer’s role and Dice-K shift back to the rotation. Possibly Jeurys Familia will be given a greater role and the patience needed to establish himself as a more primary relief option. Maybe we will hear more of efforts to give a couple of the young guns some bullpen exposure at Las Vegas in anticipation of a mid-season move to fortify the big club’s relief corps. Regardless, the team should be able to at least continue to rely on their two models of consistency to act as the glue holding staff together.
Looking ahead to 2015, adding Matt Harvey back to the starting pitching mix by itself goes a long way to setting expectations on a higher level than we as fans have become accustomed to in the last few years. If we add to this the Niese/Gee factor, that of a core of, well, taken-for-granted quality pitching, then much of what remains to be considered in respect to the starting staff becomes playing with various combinations of the “great young arms” element. A luxury, to be sure, and one afforded to the Mets primarily by virtue of the presence of two of the least flashy components of their staff.