Young lefty Jonathon Niese has been heavily criticized this offseason by many fans and writers for his lack of development in 2011. After a 9-10 season with a 4.20 ERA in 2010, Niese looked to step up in a major way and become the dominant starter he has the potential to become. Well I’m going to tell you that he did improve last year, and in a big way.
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Take a look at this graphic here comparing last year to 2010:
Niese’s ERA went up in 2011 but according to his xFIP, he actually pitched much better. xFIP is that eliminates factors that are out of the pitcher’s control. For instance, in Niese’s case, the Mets were one of the worst fielding teams in baseball last year. This measurement focuses in on walks, and strikeouts. The average xFIP across baseball in 2011 was 3.94. Niese’s was much lower than that. (To see more explanations on sabermetric statistics, click here.)
Another one of Niese’s major improvements can be seen in his walk numbers. He went from a well below average walks per nine innings ratio in 2010 to an above average one in 2011. Overall, he lowered the on-base percentage of opposing hitters from .346 to .335. Why not throw some more numbers out there, right? He continued to improve upon his dominance of lefties, raising his strikeout percentage by about 1.5%.
These little differences are what can elevate a pitcher from good to great. A 1.5% difference in strikeouts against lefties isn’t a big deal, especially when you take into account the fact that most hitters are right-handed, but it can be huge. What if that ounce of improvement helps Niese strike out Ryan Howard in the bottom of the eighth with two men on in a tight September game?
Now that we know Niese is improving, how does he measure up. I’ve decided to compare Niese with fellow left-hander Gio Gonzalez. The two of them have been together in conversation many times lately. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the two:
Gonzalez, in this comparison, benefits from the fact that he has the equivalent of an extra season under his belt. However, despite the difference in development time, Niese walks fewer hitters and according to xFIP, pitches better. There is no doubt that they are very similar pitchers, which is a compliment to Niese. The both have similar differences in fastball- curveball velocity, an underappreciated weapon for a pitcher.
This comparison really proves that Niese actually has been developing, despite what critics have been saying about him. Niese could take an even bigger step this season, and become an ace.
Oh yeah, and the nose job should help, too.