Rising Apple Player of the Week: Jonathon Niese

By Matt Musico

The Rising Apple staff chooses one player to highlight on our site for their outstanding or unique performance for the last week. If  you have a nomination on who should be crowned as the Rising Apple Player of the Week, please let us know! You can leave us a comment, tweet us (@RisingAppleBlog) or make a comment on Facebook.

Like last week (and every week since the All-Star break), the Mets had a tough time putting W’s on the board, as they endured two more series losses by posting a 2-4 record against the Braves and Reds. During that time, New York has been shut out by opposing pitchers twice and scored 18 runs in their last six games, with 14 of them coming in their two wins. The one bright spot over the past week was the performance from Jonathon Niese against the Braves, which was televised on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, which garners him his first Player of the Week award from the Rising Apple staff.

After getting out of a jam in the first inning and giving up a home run in the second to Freddie Freeman, the southpaw was in control of the second place Braves, only allowing four hits the rest of his eight inning performance, with one of those hitters reaching scoring position. Niese also walked 2 and struck out 6, and Terry Collins acknowledged that he could’ve run out his starter for the ninth, as he only had 106 pitches at that point, but opted for the bullpen since he felt Niese’s pitches are starting to creep up in the zone. Once everyone was done having a heart attack, Niese had his ninth win of the season, second on the team to R.A. Dickey, with his 122 punch outs and 144.2 innings pitched also coming in second behind the knuckleballer.

Although the outcomes of his starts have been inconsistent throughout the last two months, the one thing that Terry Collins can be sure about when Niese takes the mound is that he will get some length from his lefty. The last time he pitched less than six innings in a start was back on May 28th, which is a streak that now spans 13 starts. Outside of his obvious improvement from last year in ERA (4.40 to 3.67) and WHIP (1.41 to 1.18), Niese has also shown a drastic improvement in two other important areas.

One area of improvement is his BABIP; in 2011, he saw that mark climb back up to .333, which was the highest it’s been since he was a rookie in 2008. This season, Niese has lowered that number back down to .272, as he’s also improved his LOB% from 67% to 74.5%. What could be causing this improvement? He’s growing as a pitcher, but he’s been using his cutter more often (17.2% in ’11 to 26.2% in ’12), and the contact rate for opposing hitters out of the strike zone has increased by over 4%. Running that ball on either on the hands to right-handers or off the end of the bat to left-handers has certainly been helping him with runners on this season, as he looks to build upon his last start this weekend in Washington.

Honorable Mentions: A shout out has to go to Matt Harvey and his dominant performance of the Cincinnati Reds last night. He went 7.2 innings and gave up 1 run on 4 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 8. He didn’t stop there, as he added a two run double at the plate to help himself in all aspects of the game. Also, we’d like to mention Jason Bay; with his home run last night, he continues to prove to us every three or four weeks that he does have some pop left in his bat.