We continue our 2013 Mets’ Season in Review Series with Lefty Jonathon Niese.
After experiencing a breakout season in 2012 that featured a 3.40 ERA and 3.16 K/BB ratio, Jon Niese was rewarded with the 2013 Opening Day start. Niese, 26, entered the season as the Mets’ veteran starter, with 94 starts entering this year (Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee, and Jeremy Hefner entered with a combined 72). The only question surrounding Niese was whether 2012 was for real and if his 5-year contract (7 including the two option years) would prove to be a value.
How Jon Niese did on the mound in 2013:
Largely well. While in many cases 2013 could be viewed as a step backward, it looks like Niese regained the form that made him one of the league’s most promising young lefties. His April was disappointing peripherally, posting a 17:13 strikeout to walk ratio in 32.2 innings, and his May got off to a terrible start. He allowed a staggering 15 earned runs in 8.1 innings over his first two starts, with 9 walks against only two strikeouts. He rebounded though, with a 2.50 ERA in his next six starts, and averaged 6 innings each time. The sixth start, unfortunately, led to the first heart-in-the-throat moment for the Mets, as Niese was removed in the fourth inning against the Braves with what was diagnosed as “shoulder tightness”. Then the word ‘tear’ was mentioned, leading us to believe that his season (and future) were in jeopardy.
The Mets decided to wait two weeks for swelling to go down before determining Niese’s future, and received some fortunate news. The tear was considered minor enough that it didn’t present any danger, and Niese would rehab and (hopefully) return to the majors soon. He made his return in early August, and earned a win while allowing four earned runs to the Diamondbacks in six innings. Niese was the pitcher we had come to expect from that point on; he averaged just under 6.2 innings/start with a 3.00 ERA. More importantly, he only walked 18 batters in those ten starts against 58 strikeouts. His WHIP was 1.24, down from 1.61 in the first half. His season approached a crescendo on August 27th. The day after the news of Matt Harvey’s UCL tear, Jonathon Niese pitched the second shutout of his career, holding the Philadelphia Phillies to three hits and a walk over nine innings. Even further, he worked an eight-pitch at bat before drilling a three-run double to left center field to hammer home the Mets’ win.
Areas to improve upon:
Avoiding disaster. Niese’s one weakness over the past few years has been the disaster start – where he allows 5+ runs and fails to complete the fifth inning. To illustrate this:
Jonathon Niese has made 80 starts in the past three seasons and has a 3.78 ERA in them. However, he has two starts in each of those seasons with a Game Score (explained here) below 30. If you remove those two starts, his ERA over the past three seasons drops to 3.15, which would rank 15th in baseball over that span. Even better, it’d be 2.91 over that past two years, which would rank third(!) in the majors.
Projected Role in 2014:
There’s a chance that Niese is traded in this offseason; his name has been floated around as a trade candidate in seasons past. His contract is extremely team-friendly, and his status as a promising pitcher makes him a valuable commodity.
It’s also those reasons that make him very important here with Harvey’s health up in the air. At 27, he’s the senior member of the rotation currently, and a reliable, quality arm at that. An unhealthy Harvey could push Niese into the opening day starters’ role for a second season, and how he performs could be a litmus test for the Mets’ playoff chances in 2014.
Contract Status and Trade Rumors:
There’s very little to discuss regarding Niese’s contract status. The 5-year, $25.27 contract (with two option seasons for $21M total) is very team friendly, and both parties appear more than satisfied with its terms.
Between his ability and likely value, Niese could be a valuable trade chip for the Mets. It was speculated that the Mets could’ve replaced R.A. Dickey with Niese in trade talks and gotten the same return. It’s possible Niese could be traded for an impact bat, but it’s more likely it doesn’t happen – his value to the team is probably higher than whatever he may bring back.