There’s been a lot written about the quality of the Mets’ homegrown starting pitching, both in the current rotation and on the horizon. Matt Harvey emerged as one of the game’s most dominant young starters in 2013 and, though he will miss 2014, is poised to front the rotation for years to come. Blue-chip prospect Zack Wheeler had a successful debut in 2013 as well. Though he struggled a bit from time to time, he showed flashes of his front-end starter potential. At the back of the rotation is Dillon Gee, who righted the ship after a rough start to 2013 and put up the best season of his young career. Finally, and generally slotted into the middle of the Mets’ rotation, is Jonathon Niese.
So what is Niese to this Mets team? He’s many things. He’s the longest tenured Mets starting pitcher on the roster. He’s a familiar and consistent face to a Mets fan base that has seen extensive roster churn over the last few seasons. He’s the lone lefty in the rotation for the time being. Most importantly, he’s a player the front office has committed to being a part of the team’s future after signing him to a five-year, $25 million contract extension at the beginning of the 2012 season. As such, he’s an important cog in any successful team the Mets hope to put on the field in the near term.
Since his first full season as a starter in 2010, Niese has been a steady if unspectacular presence in the Mets rotation. It had appeared that he may have turned a corner heading into the 2013 season after a very successful 2012. As the table below shows, he had actually been improving over the course of his first three full seasons until 2013.
|2010||30||173.2||4.20||1.46||4.10||19.2 %||8.1 %||108|
|2011||26||157.1||4.40||1.41||3.36||19.9 %||6.3 %||119|
|2012||30||190.1||3.40||1.17||3.80||19.7 %||6.2 %||90|
|2013||24||143||3.71||1.44||3.58||16.9 %||7.7 %||104|
In 2012 he posted career bests in ERA, WHIP, BB%, and ERA- (where 100 is league average and lower is better). Of course, his BABIP against (.276) and FIP show that he was also a bit lucky and maybe due for some regression. Still, the Mets had to be feeling pretty good about that extension.
Unfortunately, things did not go so well for Niese during the 2013 season. His ERA and WHIP ballooned, his K rate dipped significantly, his BB rate rose a bit, and his ERA- was worse than league average. Perhaps not coincidentally, his BABIP also rose over 50 points. Adding insult to injury (literally) was the fact that he spent over a month on the disabled list with a partial tear in his rotator cuff.
One has to take into account that injury when considering his 2013 performance, though. Before landing on the disabled list he was downright mediocre, but he was absolutely scorching in August after his return before stumbling in the final month or so of the season. Niese has shown a tendency to have difficulty closing out the season strong in his short career. It’s not an uncommon issue for young pitchers, but Niese is more vet than youngster now and he needs to find a way to finish strong if he intends on being a part of a potential Mets playoff run.
What do the Mets have in Niese? He’s a solid, mid-rotation pitcher that at times flashes dominance. If he continues improving and lives up to his potential he’ll be a steal at his current contract. Even more excitingly, he’s a key contributor in what is shaping up to be an absolutely filthy, unrelenting rotation.