Niese a Nice Find for the Mets

Toward the middle part of the decade, the New York Mets searched far and wide in a quest to uncover pitching talent. The Mets opened up the check book in 2004 to sign Cuban right-hander Alay Soler to a $2.8 million major league contract, and handed out a guaranteed $4.2 million to Rice star Philip Humber, taken with the third overall pick in the draft. Venezuelan righty Deolis Guerra got a $700,000 bonus the following year, but Wichita State stud Mike Pelfrey dwarfed that amount by reeling in a guaranteed $5.25 million (with bonuses) as the ninth pick in the 2005 draft. Yet, for all of that globe-trekking and cash spent, New York’s best find over that period might just be a seventh-round pick from Defiance, Ohio — population 17,000.

Jonathon Niese, inked for $175,000 in the ’05 draft, was Ohio’s first high schooler to win back-to-back state player of the year awards. Hall of Fame backstop Gary Carter, then the Mets’ Gulf Coast League manager, lobbied the club to come to terms with the lefty. Niese compiled an impressive minor league dossier (8.2 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 51.8 GB%, 3.57 FIP) and┬áreceived some big league time in 2008 and 2009, but he entered 2010 looking to prove himself as an important part of the team’s long-term plans. The last image Mets fans had of the 6-3 southpaw in 2009 was his crumpling to the ground in agony — Niese strained his right hamstring trying to cover first base during an August 5th game against the Cardinals, then ripped a tendon off the bone while making a warm-up pitch. He underwent season-ending surgery.

While Niese did serve a DL stint in mid-May for his surgically-repaired hammy, he has emerged as a quality cog in the Mets’ rotation. The 23-year-old has 7.11 K/9, 2.84 BB/9 and a 49.1% ground ball rate in 133 innings pitched, a showing worth 1.8 Wins Above Replacement. Niese might be pitching a bit above his head at the moment — there’s a gap between his ERA (3.38) and xFIP (3.97) due to a near-78% rate of stranding runners on base — but he has nonetheless performed admirably.

The man hailing from the same town as Chad Billingsley doesn’t possess awe-inspiring stuff, with a fastball that typically sits 89-90 MPH. According to our Pitch Type Run Values, Niese’s heat has been -0.68 runs below average per 100 pitches thrown. But he’s not overly reliant on the pitch, throwing it about 55% of the time. Niese supplements his fastball with lots of mid-80’s cutters (26 percent), mid-70’s curves with 12-to-6 action (15 percent) and occasional low-80’s changeups (four to five percent). Those secondary offerings all have positive run values — +0.38 for the curve, +0.44 for the change and +1.41 for the cutter. Niese’s cutter has been particularly impressive. According to Pitch F/X data from TexasLeaguers, the pitch has been thrown for a strike 71.7% of the time (68.3% MLB average), with an 11.7% whiff rate that surpasses the 8.8% big league average.

Niese isn’t a monster talent, but there’s plenty to like here. He gets a solid number of punch outs, has average to slightly above-average control and keeps the ball on the ground, which adds up to a nice package of skills. Save for Pelfrey, those highly acclaimed, high-priced signees have fizzled out. But the Mets found a bargain in Niese. Now, the club has a young, cost-controlled asset for years to come.



Print This Post



A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Carlosologist
Guest
Carlosologist
6 years 6 days ago

The Mets will probably find some way to mess up what they have with Niese.

Z2
Guest
Z2
6 years 6 days ago

Tough to imagine where the team would be without Dickey and Niese; Niese’s injury was horrible last year too, I think I remembering reading that he actually passed out on the way to the locker room because of the pain.

theperfectgame
Member
theperfectgame
6 years 6 days ago

His development of the cutter and his ability to mix his pitches have made him an exciting young player. 2009 was a tale of 2 seasons for him. He was a completely different pitcher after June 1. Look at his game logs from ’09. It’s really unbelievable. It’s great to see him getting some press. In what has been a(nother) lost season for the Mets he, along with Angel Pagan and RA Dickey, have given us Mets fans something to be excited about. And while he has certainly outpitched his xFIP, his splits by month show a pretty steady improvement in that metric. I’m hoping he’ll get a little love on some NL ROY ballots. Hard to consider him a real contender for the award given the amazing performance of some other NL rookies, but he certainly deserves a few 3rd place votes.

Butkus
Guest
Butkus
6 years 6 days ago

Why is Billingsley’s WAR at 3.0 and Niese’s is only 1.8? Their numbers look virtually identical to me…

theperfectgame
Member
theperfectgame
6 years 6 days ago

FIP… I think pitcher WAR is largely based on FIP, and Billingsley’s is almost a run better than Niese’s

garik16
Guest
garik16
6 years 6 days ago

Niese was out for 3 weeks to a month in May with an injury.

theperfectgame
Member
theperfectgame
6 years 6 days ago

But Billingsley has just 1 more start and 7.1 more IP than Niese on the year. I’m pretty sure it’s the FIP difference (3.28 to 3.98).

Dave I
Guest
Dave I
6 years 6 days ago

Niese has 19 starts out of 22 on the season allowing 3 runs or fewer, and one of the three was a rain-interrupted game in Detroit where he never should have been allowed to start the 4th inning (after an hour rain delay and then the Mets batting for another 30 minutes – yes! Hard to believe but they did). I think the article says it well – he’s not a top of the line starter, but he is solid and gives them a chance to win just about every time out.

theperfectgame
Member
theperfectgame
6 years 6 days ago

He probably should have been yanked from the Detroit game and the Mets were up huge, but he did have a no hitter at that point, which probably factored into the decision. And after they sent him back out there initially, I think they left him in because they just wanted to get him the 5 IP needed to qualify for the win (reason #674 why the pitcher win is a dumb stat).

As a Mets fan, I’m extremely pleased with Niese. He’s been excellent. That ’05 draft has been pretty bountiful for the Mets. Pelfrey in the 1st, Niese in the 7th, Bobby Parnell in the 9th, and Josh Thole in the 13th.

SchmidtXC
Guest
SchmidtXC
6 years 6 days ago

Give Omar some credit, he turned Humber and Gueera into Johan as well

Steve
Guest
Steve
6 years 5 days ago

What is Dickey’s contract status? Do the Mets control him for a while?

theperfectgame
Member
theperfectgame
6 years 5 days ago

He’s arbitration eligible but under Met control for 2011. But after 2011 he’ll be eligible for free agency.

The sad thing is that if the Mets had waited 8 more days to call him up this year, they’d have another year of control. Sad for the Mets, at least. Good for Dickey, who, lets be honest, deserves to finally make some dough. I’m hoping the Mets sign him to a reasonable 2 year deal with a 3rd year option.

wpDiscuz