What do the Mets have in Jonathon Niese?

Jonathon NieseThere’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.

Season GS IP ERA WHIP FIP K% BB% ERA-
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.

7 comments for “What do the Mets have in Jonathon Niese?

  1. Name
    January 5, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    You seem to have forgotten about Niese’s bad luck in April when he got the short end of the stick and had to pitch in the 2 coldest games of the season. The first was the 34 degrees Minnesota snowing game and then his next start was one of the coldest at 28 degrees in Colorado. The next start he was pulled in the 3rd inning due to injury. I think those two cold starts no doubt contributed to his injury, as baseball players aren’t conditioned to play at that temp.

    In the 10 starts returning from the injury, he had a 3.00 ERA averaging 6.6 innings per start.

    • January 5, 2014 at 10:41 pm

      Thanks for pointing it out, as I had actually forgotten that. Still, I attributed his bad start to his injury. I agree with you there.

  2. January 5, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    And he didn’t stumble in September – he had one bad start.

    He had four QS in six appearances in September. Overall for the month he had a 3.79 ERA and if you take away the start in Cleveland, he had a 3.09 ERA.

  3. TexasGusCC
    January 6, 2014 at 12:51 am

    Happy New Year gentlemen. Based on the conditions Niese had to endure, we can probably put 2013 down as an off year if he bounces back and picks up where he left off in 2012. If he still has struggles and inconsistencies, then Niese may be a pitcher like Mark Burhle or Ted Lilly in which he will have hot spells and cold spells and be no more than a #3 or #4 guy. Useful yes, but certainly easily replaceable.

  4. January 6, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    For what it’s worth, the “stumbling” comment was meant to contrast his performance in September to his performance in June/August when he came off the disabled list. He was pretty dominant in that time period, but came out of it a bit in September. His K rate sank, his BB rate went up a bit, etc.

  5. Spencer Manners
    January 6, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    If we take his stuff out of the equation, his numbers are similar to those of Edwin Jackson

  6. Patrick Albanesius
    January 7, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    If you want to make that comparison, I’ll take Niese at $5 million over Jackson at $13 million every day of the week.

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