As the trade winds continue to blow this December, an interesting name has been added to the mix for teams looking for a starting pitcher: Jonathon Niese of the New York Mets. The 25 year old Niese has been one of the Mets’ most effective starter over the past two seasons, ranking second on the staff with both 4.5 fWAR and a 3.75 FIP. The Mets are hesitant to trade him, and are apparently looking to be blown away with a package. I understand the logic, as he’s one of three Mets starters under 30 to make at least 30 starts in each of the last two years, and the most effective of the three. But is he the kind of guy that you should absolutely not be looking to move unless the perfect deal comes along?
When comparing Niese to his peers in baseball, you have to look at the whole picture, and can’t just pick and choose stats to look at. While Niese’s 4.30 ERA ranks among the back third of all starters over the last three years with a total of 300 innings, it’s really not all that bad. Niese has been plagued by awful luck, with a .328 BABIP that is the worst in baseball over the last two seasons, and a 68.9% strand rate that ranks just outside the bottom ten. So that 4.30 ERA that looks so ugly really is a factor of terrible luck for him, and not overall performance. Niese’s 3.75 FIP is near the middle of the pack among NL starters, and his 3.55 xFIP is in the top third of the league, comparable to pitchers like Roy Oswalt, Jered Weaver, and David Price (all of whom are at 3.56).
Durability has been a concern for Niese, though. After cups of coffee in the majors in 2008 and 2009, Niese came to the majors to stay in 2010. He threw just six minor league innings over the past two years, coming on a rehab assignment in 2010. In his two year stint in the majors, Niese has thrown just 331 innings, pretty close to the bare minimum of 322 needed to qualify for the ERA title over the past two years. Only five pitchers who would qualify for the mythical two year ERA title threw fewer innings than Niese did over the final two seasons. He missed all of September this past season after straining a muscle on his side.
Aside from his issues with durability and bad luck, Niese hasn’t been a bad pitcher for the Mets. His 7.78 strikeout rate ranks in the middle of the pack among all pitchers over the last two years, as does his 2.88 walk rate. Another positive aspect of Niese’s game is his 49.5% groundball rate, which is among the best in the game.
The Mets don’t *need* to trade Jon Niese. I mean, he’s under team control for the next four seasons. and won’t be arbitration eligible until next season. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a Cy Young caliber pitcher, but at the same time, he’s not going to be out of baseball in two years either. He can be a solid 3/4 starter for the Mets, and with Zach Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia and Matt Harvey (who Mark wrote all about yesterday) on the horizon, the Mets could have a nice little rotation on their hands soon. But if a team is willing to part with a top 100 prospect or two for Niese, I’d probably make the deal.