The Mets signed Jonathon Niese at the perfect time early last April, inking the left-hander to a five-year extension worth just over $25 million. The contract the two sides agreed to kept Niese a Met for his final pre-arbitration years (2012), all three of his arbitration years, and at least one year of free agency. The best part of the deal may be the two team options, which total $21 million and would keep Niese for two more free agent years. Niese, who has constantly been the subject of trade rumors throughout his career, finally had some security. How did he respond? With a career year.
Niese was coming off a few year in a row in which he was unable to finish a season pitching well or healthy. In 2010, he posted a 7.57 ERA over his last seven starts after pitching very well for most of the season. He was clearly showing signs of wear and tear. In 2011, he missed all of September with injury. It was very important for Niese to finally be able to pitch (and pitch well) down the stretch in 2012.
Niese’s overall numbers last season are actually a bit deceiving, and don’t quite tell the whole story. He finished the year with an above-average ERA of 3.40, 14th in the National League. However, he actually pitched much better than that mark would suggest. His ERA was inflated by two terrible starts, one in May against Toronto and another right before the All-Star break against Chicago. In those two games combined, he gave up 15 earned runs in 10 innings pitched. If you remove those starts from his statistics, his ERA is 2.84, which would have been fifth in the National League.
Since he has become a full-time starter in the big leagues, Niese has shown steady improvement, but last year was an even bigger step forward and has me excited for his future. He is mixing his pitches much better than in years past, and is also pitching remarkably better out of the stretch. With men on, opponents had a meager .272 on-base percentage with Niese striking out 3.52 batters per walk. In 2010 in those situations, hitters had a .358 on-base percentage and Niese struck out only 1.94 batters per walk. That’s a very promising trend and shows that last year was no fluke.
Overall, Niese has a very bright future ahead of him. Last year was not a fluke, but genuine improvement. He has turned himself into one of the better young lefties in the National League. With his new team-friendly contract, if he continues to pitch like he did last year, he will be immensely valuable to the Mets in the years to come.