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Let’s not go overboard for Jonathan Niese now

Dec 7, 2011, 8:31 PM EDT

Jon Niese Reuters

According to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, we have the Blue Jays, Padres, Red Sox, Rockies and Yankees all in on Mets left-hander Jonathan Niese. And it’s easy to see why teams would be interested. Niese is a 25-year-old left-hander making close to the minimum with a decent track record and pretty legitimate stuff.

The most intriguing thing about Niese is that he’s fanned 7.65 batters per nine innigs as a major leaguer. That’s a better mark than Dan Haren, James Shields, Matt Cain or Cliff Lee. CC Sabathia barely tops him at 7.68. Being that strikeout rate is pretty much the best indicator available for future success, it’s no surprise there’s quite a bit of demand for Niese.

But there’s something to be very cautious about here, too. Niese appears to suffer from Glendon Rusch disease, in that he gives up hits at a much greater rate than one would expect given his strikeout and home run rates. The major league batting average on balls in play last year was .291. Niese finished at .333. Usually when something like that happens, it gets written off as a fluke and the pitcher gets talked about as a bounce-back candidate for the next year.

It doesn’t appear to be a fluke with Niese, though. He came in at .324 in 2010. In 2009, he was at .313 in Triple-A and .317 in five major league starts. In 2008, he was at .304 in the minors and .375 in three major league starts. In 2007, he was at .340 in high-A ball.

In Niese’s case, this likely has a lot to do with a lack of fastball movement. He can get swings and misses, particularly with his breaking balls, but hitters tend to line up hit fastball pretty well. It’s not something that figures to change, so Niese may well be one of those guys who is never quite as good as his peripherals.

That doesn’t mean he’s not worth having; Niese is still a perfectly acceptable No. 4 starter as is. But the price will be significant, and teams expecting him to break through will probably be disappointed.

  1. beerjunkie - Dec 7, 2011 at 8:41 PM

    Thanks. Insightful-seriously. Not being sarcastic. Was unaware of that. Intriguing information.

  2. sometimesphylan - Dec 7, 2011 at 8:42 PM

    Minor league BABIP figures are kind of a ridiculous thing to resort too, considering the amazing defensive prowess of low minors infielders.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Dec 7, 2011 at 8:54 PM

      There’s definitely some truth to that. But, while I’m sure there are a few exceptions out there, most of your good major league pitchers overperformed on BABIP in the minors.

  3. sometimesphylan - Dec 7, 2011 at 8:42 PM

    Minor league BABIP figures are kind of a ridiculous thing to resort to, considering the amazing defensive prowess of low minors infielders.

  4. lyon810 - Dec 7, 2011 at 8:52 PM

    Why not go overboard with this? We are with just about everything else.

  5. dondada10 - Dec 7, 2011 at 9:27 PM

    I know it’s comparing a lefty to a righty, but Niese’s value should be comparable to Shaun Marcum after his 2010 season. Marcum had just finished his fourth full season and had registered a FIP of 4.30 and a 7.3 k/9. Niese is 5 years younger and after 2 full seasons has a FIP of 3.77 to go along with a 7.65 k/9.

  6. dirtdog7 - Dec 7, 2011 at 11:13 PM

    Now I’ll admit that I don’t know all that much about the advanced metrics, but I see that Niese had an xFIP of 3.28 but got rocked for an ERA of 4.40. I didn’t realize that the mets defense was that bad last year, but I just saw that Angel Pagan had a -14.3 UZR, Jose Reyes had a -3.1 UZR, and Gold-Glove winner David Wright had a -10.5 UZR last year! And that’s only a sampling of the atrocious defense they played last year.

  7. purnellmeagrejr - Dec 8, 2011 at 6:13 AM

    I think this guy is a lot better than Matt does. I don’t have statistics in front of me but he has one of the prime attributres of a good pitcher – on some days he can shut a team down (as opposed to the Millwooods of the world.)

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