By Jason Shetler
Over the last six seasons, Jon Niese was a fixture in the New York Mets rotation. The 29-year-old southpaw was one of their more consistent starters prior to Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard coming to the Big Apple. Because of the Mets rotation depth being deep entering the postseason last year, Niese was moved to the bullpen along with Bartolo Colon. With much expected criticism, the Pirates dealt Neil Walker to the Mets in exchange for Niese during this offseason’s Winter Meetings. Here are the numbers on Niese from the past two years, and what his projection will be for 2016.
2014 (Mets): 3.40 ERA, 101 ERA+, 3.67 FIP, 1.27 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 6.6 K/9, 2.3 WAR in 30 starts
2015 (Mets): 4.13 ERA, 89 ERA+, 4.41 FIP, 1.40 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, 5.8 K/9, 0.9 WAR in 33 games (29 starts)
2016 (FanGraphs): 3.75 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9, 6.4 K/9, 1.3 WAR in 28 starts
Niese had a better season overall in 2014 than he did a year ago. His 2015 Fielding Independent Pitching was on the high side at 4.41, mainly because he allowed more walks and struckout fewer batters. Aside from that, Niese was a much better groundball pitcher last season, as he posted a career best 55% groundball rate, which was 7% higher compared to 2014. He also got more weak contact in 2015 with a 19.2% soft contact percentage (14.8% in 2014). FanGraphs projects that Niese will be more of the starter he was a couple years ago.
My analysis: You could make a case that Jon Niese has been one of the more underrated left-handed starters in baseball, despite the fact he pitched in New York. While Niese may not have plus stuff in his arsenal, he’s performed well with a FIP under 4.00 in five of his eight big league seasons. As mentioned, the 55% groundball rate for him in 2015 was a career best for him. I agree with the FanGraphs projection that Niese is likely to have a better season in 2016 when you consider his ability to generate groundballs combined with the aggressive infield shifting the Pirates incorporate.