The Mets came into Sunday night’s game having lost five of their last six games and 21 of their last 29. Additionally, they had dropped seven straight games this season to the Braves. The way the second half has unfolded means there’s no such thing as a “must-win” game for the 2012 Mets. Nevertheless, Jonathon Niese’s outing last night was like a breath of fresh air.
With the bullpen having worked 7.2 innings in Saturday’s game, Niese gave the club exactly what it needed, with eight strong innings. He handed a 6-1 game over to the pen and that was enough – barely – for the Mets to get the win.
Niese has a 3.67 ERA for the season which is right in line with his 3.96 FIP and 3.63 xFIP. The three previous seasons, Niese’s ERA has been above, and in most cases significantly above, his estimators. In 2011, he had a 4.40 ERA compared to a 3.36 FIP and a 3.28 xFIP. In the past, Niese has been done in by elevated BABIPs and a slightly below average strand rate. This year he has a deflated BABIP but an elevated HR rate.
The only run Niese surrendered last night came on a gopher ball and for the year he has a 14.1 HR/FB rate, a career-worst mark. It’s tied for the 14th-highest rate in MLB this season among 100 qualified starters on the FanGraphs leaderboards.
In all, Niese has surrendered 19 HR in 144.2 IP. Ten of those 19 HR have been solo shots, five have been two-runs blasts and four have been three-run homers. Furthermore, twice Niese has given up two homers in a game and once he allowed four HR in a single contest. Let’s break down his season by HR allowed.
No homers: 5-2 with a 2.72 ERA
One homer: 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA
Multiple HR: 1-2 with a 10.95 ERA
Not all HR are created equally. Let’s combine Niese’s record in games where he does not allow a HR and games like last night, where he allowed just a solo homer. Then his record is 9-2 with a 2.38 ERA, which includes his game on June 22nd, when he allowed two solo homers.
Ranking qualified pitchers by xFIP, Niese checks in as 23rd-best. Doing the same thing with ERA, Niese is 36th. Finally, if we sort qualified pitchers by innings, Niese ranks 30th. So far in 2012, Niese has been a low-end SP1 or a high-end SP2.
Of course we have seen strong starts by Niese in 2010 and 2011 done in by poor finishes. His lifetime ERA in August is 4.60 and it’s 7.09 in September so we have to wait and see what happens the rest of the season before we can make any firm judgments.
Still, at this point it appears that Niese has taken a step forward and it means the decision to extend his contract was a good one. Back in the beginning of April, the Mets signed Niese to a five-year deal with two club options. Niese gets steady raises throughout the life of his contract but he will be a bargain if he continues to pitch like this, even in his second club option season, where the Mets can retain him in 2018 for an $11 million salary.