The Mets extended lefty Jonathon Niese for five years and $25.5 million, and even without the two club option years ($10 and $10.5 million respectively), the deal should be a solid one for the front office. They’ve bought out all of his arbitration years, a year of free agency, and have two friendly options — and his comps suggest that he’ll make the deal look good.
Using the new age filters on the site, we can find all the pitchers between 23 and 25 years old that pitched in the PITCH F/x era (2002+). From there, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to all 23-25 year olds that managed to induce more than 47% of their contact on the ground (Niese career GB% 49.1%), strike out more than seven batters per nine (career 7.65 K/9), walk fewer than 3.4 batters per nine (career 2.99 BB/9), and amass more than 150 innings in a season. Suddenly, Niese is in good company.
That’s a seriously exciting list of compatriots. Three caveats separate Niese from the rest, in a bad way, so let’s enumerate and perhaps eviscerate.
1) Niese has the worst record in the seasons that appear on the list. He was the only one under .500, with a 20-21 record. You know what, though? Wins. Wins are so silly that they didn’t belong on the list, and we can move on.
2) Niese gave up more home runs than anyone on the list. You might also notice that he has two of the four worst home-run-per-fly ball rates on the list. The bulk of the research out there suggests that pitchers cannot control this rate — Niese might expect regression towards the mean suggested by his comps on this list. Hint: that would be good for him.
3) Niese pitched fewer innnings than anyone not named Dustin McGowan on this list. But so far the injuries that have felled Niese have not been arm or shoulder issues. A thigh strain lead to surgery and the bulk of his missed time in 2010, and 2011 it was an oblique strain. We’re still working on injury predictions, and we do know that hitting the DL in any given season makes a pitcher more likely to hit the DL in a future season. These two injuries still don’t seem that threatening.
Of course, Niese manages to find himself near the bottom of the three limiting factors, so He’s not in the same class as Felix Hernandez even if they ended up on the same list. But all is not lost even if he ends up more like Jeremy Bonderman. If you look at the five years Bonderman put up after 2006, he still managed four and a half wins. Five years like Chad Billingsley put up would make Niese a value, and it’s worth mentioning that Billingsley has had trouble crossing two of the three limiting threshholds for most of his career — he has a career 46.5% ground-ball percentage, and a career walk rate of 3.92 per nine. Dustin McGowan is the bogeyman, of course, but even in 2007, McGowan had already had Tommy John surgery.
And Jon Lester is the only other lefty on this list. That’s worth pointing out, since lefties have gotten bigger, longer deals over the course of free agency. It’s also worth pointing out that Niese did his damage at ages 23 and 24, so he was younger than some of the men on this list.
The bottom line is that this deal, if you use the 40/60/80 structure, values Jonathon Niese as if he was a two-win pitcher. And he’s been better than that so far. If his luck on fly balls and balls in play (.329 career BABIP) change for the better, he could be an even better value all the way into 2018.
Some have felt that the Mets’ front office has been handcuffed, and that they haven’t spent enough to make this team better. This week, though, they spent, finally. And they did so wisely.