Most of us Met fans were looking for Jonathon Niese to take the next step in 2012. He had been uneven in his first 2 seasons, where the marathon seemed to catch up to the lefty. In 2010, he was 8-5 with a 3.33 ERA in his first 23 starts, but was 1-5 in his last 7 starts, ballooning his ERA to 4.20 in 173.2 innings pitched. In 2011, he injured his rib cage on August 23rd, ending an imbalanced campaign with an 11-11 record and 4.40 ERA in 157.1 innings pitched. A big reason for his inconsistency was the big innings he would let occur. If something wasn’t working, he would abandon it early, and before we knew it, the opposition had scored 4 runs off the two pitches he was working with, and he failed to make the proper adjustment. Though we saw some of that at times from Jon this year, when it was all said and done, he had not only finally finished a season but had transformed himself into a Bona Fide Major League Southpaw.
How He Did on the Mound
It all started in spring training, when jokes were abound about the Rhinoplasty Jon Niese got to help his breathing, paid for by Carlos Beltran. When we all put kidding aside, we hoped the better breathing would lead to better conditioning as the 25-year-old aimed to finish the year strong.
He started the year off strong with a no-hit effort into the 7th, after signing a 5-year extension with the Mets the morning before. We figured he wouldn’t get the no-no with his pitch count already so high, and sure enough, he walked Uggla, then gave up a single to Freddie Freeman. Niese gave up 2 runs before being lifted without getting any out in the inning, but the Mets held on to win that day, 7-5. He was brilliant in his next start against the Phillies, which helped him have a solid April with a 2-0 record and a 2.81 ERA.
Unfortunately, he gave up 5 runs against the Astros in his first May start, beginning a bad trend that led to a 1-2 /6.07 ERA month from Niese. That number, however, was pumped up because of an atrocious start against the Blue Jays in Toronto, where Jon gave up 8 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks, including 4 homers in 3 innings of work. That start sent his ERA from 3.40 to 4.85, and had Dan Warthen questioning his preparation. Though he bounced back nicely in his next start, he had a so-so outing to finish the month, and we were once again questioning the kind of consistency we could expect from our young left-hander.
Two days after the No-han, Jon began his June on a real good note as the 3rd consecutive Mets pitcher to shut down the Cardinals, giving up no runs on 6 hits with 10 strikeouts in 6 innings of work. Thus, he began his best month of the season, going 3-1 with a 1.89 ERA. By the time he began July, he was 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA.
It was as he started July that we all bought into believing Jon had turned that “corner.” An excellent 8-inning 1-run performance against the Phils was followed up with a 7-inning, 7-run performance against the Cubs, in which he gave up 4 runs in the 1st, retired 17 of 18, then gave up a 3-run homer to Starlin Castro. A strange start indeed. Though you could say that game was the beginning of the end for the 2012 New York Mets, Jon had now gone 7 straight starts pitching into the 6th inning or later, a sign of the consistency us fans had been looking for. The true turning point for Niese, I believe, was a start in Arizona, where he gave up 6 runs in the 2nd on an error of his making, but settled down to pitch 6 innings, only giving up 1 run in each of the 5th and 6th. Though I gave him crap at the time, he would not give up more than 4 runs in any one game for the rest of the season, and only did that ONCE (…I was a little too heated about Jon Niese in that one…certainly a Sign O’ the 2nd Half Times.) Jon finished the season with a 7-inning, 1-run performance against the Braves, gaining the win by an Abiding Duda. That brought his end-of-season totals to 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA in 190.1 innings of work. His 1.17 WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) was the lowest of his 3 full Major League seasons. His streak of pitching into the 6th inning now stands at 20 games.
Areas to Improve Upon
Limiting those big innings. Adjustments need to be made, and in the 2nd half he did a much better job of making those necessary tweaks mid-start if need be. Continuing that 2nd half consistency and the sky is the limit for this kid.
He should also continue to work on his conditioning. He was successful down the stretch, but working in a 6-man rotation. Whether or not that played a factor doesn’t matter. He must be effective regardless of the amount of days given to him by the coaching staff at the end of the season. A 6-man staff certainly won’t be there for him in the future.
How he Handled the Facial Hair
Jon grew a very solid, well-trimmed, full-looking beard. I look forward to examining it further this off-season when Jon Niese gets his very own Facial Hair of Mets’ Past and Present.
Projected Role in 2013
Jon Niese should be back as an anchor in the Mets rotation, unless…
Contract Status/Chances of Being Traded
The deal Niese signed in April is a very team-friendly deal. He made $1.02 mil in 2012 and will see his salary increase by 2 mil every year through 2016. The Mets hold team options for both 2017 and 2018, worth 10 mil and 11 mil, respectively. The contract and Jon Niese’s coming-of-age certainly makes him attractive to other teams, and there is the possibility the Mets will use him to get some pop back to their outfield. Though theoretically the Mets have starting pitching depth to work with, the same things that makes Niese desirable for other teams are the exact reasons the Mets would want to hold onto him. It isn’t everyday a homegrown southpaw with the ceiling for success as high as Niese’s comes along, so it will have to take a very solid deal for Jon to get traded this offseason.
Plus…come on, now. He was BORN ON OCTOBER 27, 1986. You know the front office will take THAT into account.
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