Keeper: Niese versus Bumgarner

Both Jonathon Niese and Madison Bumgarner are young lefties having solid seasons, and are going to be kept in a number of leagues. But, what if you have both and have to pick one over the other? We need to examine both Niese and Bumgarner and decide who will be a better player next year, and a couple of years down the road.

Niese and Bumgarner’s numbers are nothing spectacular, but when you combine all of their peripherals together, you get a solid pitcher. Niese has a strikeout rate north of 7.5 K/9, with Bumgarner unable to reach the 6.5 mark. Since his strikeout rate is lower, Bumgarner’s walk rate needs to be lower, which it is. Bumgarner walks about two batter every nine innings, while Niese walks about three. This means that Bumgarner’s K/BB is significantly better, coming in around three, while Niese isn’t even at 2.5. That’s Bumgarner’s biggest, and possibly only advantage. Both get enough ground balls to keep me off their case, and Niese’s 47% isn’t leaps and bounds better than Bumgarner’s 45%. Both have FIP’s and xFIP’s close to 4.00, so it’s hard to get a read on who could be better based on the pure numbers. This is where a tool like pitch f/x comes in handy.

Guess what? Their arsenal’s are pretty similar, too. Even with all of the talk about Bumgarner’s velocity, his fastball is hovering around 91 mph this year, and that includes his two-seamer. Niese sits in the 89-90 range, and doesn’t throw his fastball for strikes as often as Bumgarner. Niese also throws a nice slutter, and that is his only pitch with a positive run value. He does a great job of controlling it and getting whiffs, so that shouldn’t be a shock. None of Bumgarner’s secondary offerings are anything special, but he does a good job of throwing them all for strikes. However, Niese has great movement on his curveball, and while it’s whiff% is nothing to write home about (although maybe I just did?), it could be special if he can do a better job of controlling it.

Bumgarner is only 20, while Niese is already the ripe old age of 23. They both have the same physical build, but they use it in different ways. Since I have to pick one, I’d take Niese over Bumgarner because I think he can learn to control himself and lower his walks while upping his K’s, and I don’t know if Bumgarner will ever become more of a strikeout pitcher. If you can, grab both, but I’d rather have Niese.

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Zach is the creator and co-author of RotoGraphs' Roto Riteup series, and RotoGraphs' second-longest tenured writer. You can follow him on twitter.

13 Responses to “Keeper: Niese versus Bumgarner”

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  1. Eddie in NYC says:

    I think we need to take into account their deliveries too. For instance, a max effort guy vs. an under-control delivery gives you a clue about who may be able to resist injury, improve, or be more consistent. It’s the difference between pitchers like, say, a controlled control-artist like a Jaime Moyer career path vs. A.J. Burnett, who is a prototypical max effort guy, who is prone to flying open early and having bouts of command and the occasional health issue.

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    • Zach Sanders says:

      Niese does come over the top a bit too much, and I’m wondering if Bumgarner can stay consistent with his delivery. Both have concerns, in my eyes, but Bumgarner less so.

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      • Eddie in NYC says:

        I was inclined to think that too between Bumgarner and Niese.

        In college ball I’ve always been taught that over-the-top delieveries is ideal. Its mechanics are the best in terms of smoother delivery, harder fastball, and less prone to injury. Though a tradeoff can be movement and tipping offspeed and breaking pitches at that angle.

        An easy way to identify max effort pitchers are how they finish, If they end up completely spun around, like, say, a LHP finishes his delivery facing 3B, it’s a bad thing usually. It typically means that he is prone to overstriding and throwing across his body. It sounds overly complex to explain through typing, but if we saw an example on tape, it would be obvious. You’d see the sideways torque being put on that pitcher’s elbow.

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  2. jyoungclaus says:

    Does the age actually favor Niese? At 23 is he coming out of the injury nexus with better projections for a stronger arm? Yes he has had injuries, but none to arm, and has not been abused too young. Bumgarner is younger but can he stay injury free as innings pile up over next 2-3 years?

    In a Scoresheet BothLeague keeper league I have the following 4 pitchers and can likely only keep 2: Colby Lewis, Johnatan Sanchez, Jon Garland, and Niese.

    Who would you keep? Leaning towards Lewis and Niese.

    Is there any data or analysis on whether it is easier for a younger pitcher to learn to reduce walks or to increase strikeouts? Would guess reducing walks (which the author notes suggests keeping Niese over Bumgarnder) but would be curious what the data shows.

    Is Bumgarner in the Tommy John pitching family?

    Thanks for the article. Bottom line it is tough to pick against the pitcher with the higher strikeout rate.

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  3. Ryan Kennedy says:

    I watch almost all of Niese’s starts and I love the guy. He’s had some trouble being consistent but all and all he’s been pretty successful this year. When I dream on him I see Cliff Lee, 89-93 with a big curve (when its on and he can command it) and the Slutter which Lee also throws. Worst case I think he can be a Gavin Floyd type which is basically what he is now. 18 months ago nobody would have chosen Niese over Madison.

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    • Eddie in NYC says:

      He is not a Gavin Floyd. Floyd is taller, bigger, and stronger. I am not saying that necessarily equals a better pitcher. Floyd can reach 96-97 at max effort. He’s become a better pitcher in recent years by pitching with an easier delivery at 91-94 mph.

      Personally I like Niese, but I don’t think he’s going to be the same kind of pitcher Floyd is at his best. At his base, Floyd is a dominating pitcher who overpowers hitters. I don’t see Niese as an overpowering guy, by MLB standards. He’s more of a well rounded pitcher to me, which is not a knock on him at all. An example of good well rounded pitchers would be Tom Glavine and Cliff Lee.

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      • BlackOps says:

        Despite the difference in fastball velocity, most of Niese’s and Floyd’s periperhals pretty much fall in line.
        Niese K/9 – 7.63
        Floyd K/9 – 7.25
        Niese BB/9 – 3.26
        Floyd BB/9 – 2.79
        Niese GB% – 47.4%
        Floyd GB % – 49.9%

        At age 27, this is the first time Floyd’s GB rate is north of 45%. If we’re comparing the two, they’re quite similar pitchers right now, but Niese is doing it 3 years earlier than Floyd is. It’ll be interesting to see how Niese develops as time moves on.

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  4. DrBGiantsfan says:

    Bumgarner’s velocity has picked up in September and he’s now working in the 92-94 MPH range. He struck out 9 against the Cubs last night and in his last 5 starts has 6 BB’s and 27 K’s in 33 IP, for a 7.26 K/9, 1.98 BB/9 and a 4.5 K/BB. His secondary stuff is light years ahead of where it was earlier in the season. This one is really easy. Bumgarner all the way!!

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  5. Mike says:

    When in doubt, go with the dude in the NL West.

    Besides, being a Met is a big red flag in itself. These guys turn into flops right and left, succumb to a ridiculous amount of injuries, and are prone to having miserable seasons out of nowhere.

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  6. jdodson says:

    Is a SLUTTER a mix between a cutter and slider? That is a new one if so never heard it.

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  7. sminers says:

    Niese has pretty much flamed out his last 6 starts, while Bumgarner has given up more than 2 ER in only one of his last 8 starts. Bumgarner has shown an uptick in velocity which should only increase as he matures. Bum has the much higher ceiling and is the clearcut choice IMO.

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  8. Nick says:

    To the writer of this column, I must say, comparing Bumgarner’s arsenal to Niese’s is pretty laughable.

    Bumgarner has a fastball that is currently at 92-94 with improved mechanics, although it’s avg. rate is at 91.2 due to the velocity being dry earlier in his callup.

    Bumgarner DOES have good secondary offerings, his curveball has really improved since the start of the year, and the changeup has come along.

    Niese sits at 88-91 with the fastball(avg. 89.6). His curveball is good, but nothing else really impresses.

    Bumgarner has better control already at age 21, with a 2.12 BB rate, while Niese sits at 3.26.

    Niese does a better job of striking people out with a 7.63 rate(Bum 6.71), but I would expect that to change once Bumgarner gets more experience due to Bumgarner’s superior stuff.

    Bumgarner goes deeper into games. 6.2 innings pitcher per start, while Niese sits at 5.86.

    Bumgarner has the better build and believe it or not has a pretty easy flowing delivery.

    To me it’s a no brainer. Jon Niese is a good young pitcher who has a chance to be a pretty good #3. Bumgarner is a future stud Number 2 and maybe even a decent ace. Go with the Mad Bum.

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