2009 Analysis: Jonathan Niese

jon-niese-tongueIf we were putting grades on these analyses, Jon Niese would have to be given an “incomplete”.

After three starts as a 21-year-old in September 2008, Niese showed nothing to make any level-headed, objective party to believe he would be “ready” in 2009. Further, there was some question as to why the Mets would be in such a rush to force this young man to the bigs. He was making good progress in his jump from low-A to high-A, and did well going from A to AA. After 22 strong starts in AA, he was pushed to AAA, where he pitched 7 times before making his first MLB start — in the middle of a tight pennant race. Predictably, he fell flat on his face, unable to get past the third inning in two of his three starts. But, he pitched a remarkable eight innings of shutout ball against the Braves in between, prompting many Mets fans to believe he was the next Sandy Koufax.

It made a better story, after all, rather than considering that perhaps his success had something to do with the element of mystery — something referred to as the “Wandy Rodriguez Effect” here a few years back. In other words, young pitchers often have an advantage in their first time facing teams, because the hitters haven’t seen them before and there are no scouting reports.

But many didn’t consider that, and they ignored his other two, awful starts, clinging to that 8-inning masterpiece with delirium and unrealistic hopes.

As it was, Niese held his own in AAA in 2009. For a 22-year-old at that level, he did well. But, he did not dominate. And again, he did not show anything in particular to suggest that he was ready for prime time. He made 16 starts, averaging a shade under six innings per. His 1.28 WHIP and 82 Ks in 94 IP were good. Not great, but good. But “good” in the Mets farm system equals “great”, so he was promoted to the bigs again.

Niese made 5 MLB starts. One was good, one was awful, one was very good, one was so-so, and the final outing was over by the second inning, after he suffered his season-ending hamstring tear. I would like to point out that the “awful” outing came against the Braves — the same team he shut out over 8 frames in September 2008. It was his first start against the other four opponents.

Yet once again we have fans ready to pencil in Niese for the 2010 rotation. Despite the fact that he may not even be physically ready after the hamstring tear. Despite the fact that he accomplished very little in his 25 MLB innings of 2009.

Don’t read me wrong here. I like Jonathan Niese. I believe he has a world of potential. His big frame, smooth overhand delivery, and sharp 12-6 curveball suggest that he has the raw tools to one day develop into a legitimate MLB starter. A great one? A good one? An average one? Who knows? The only thing that’s certain is Jon Niese is nowhere near ready to be counted upon to take the ball every fifth day for a championship club. He needs to learn better command of his fastball. That nasty curveball needs to be more consistent. He needs more work on the change-up. He may need to figure out what pitch is best as an “out” pitch against MLB hitters (a “strikeout pitch” in the minors doesn’t translate to MLB). The jury is still out on how he responds to adversity. He can hit fairly well, but otherwise we don’t know about the rest of his ballgame (bunts, fielding, holding runners, etc.). I see him holding a spot in the Mets’ rotation some day, but I don’t see it happening in April 2010.

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Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Mike October 21, 2009 at 11:59 am
    Joe, Metsminorleagueblog.com does great work as I hope you know, but specifically they looked into Niese’s fastball and came up with some interesting information. It seems it is the movement on his fastball that makes him effective.
    http://www.metsminorleagueblog.com/2009/07/27/the-development-of-jon-niese-and-his-new-weapon-the-cutter/

    There are a few more entries on Niese as well in this same vein. http://www.metsminorleagueblog.com/category/jon-niese/ While none of this is exactly rocket science it appears that Niese was able to develop a major league fastball because of the movement on his pitch not necessarily the location. Sure refining it and making it more accurate is something he should do, but it may be that this pitch is already major league quality. I feel he needs another half a year in AAA at least both to recover fully and to continue to develop, but I think he is pretty close. He certainly is the most refined product the Mets have at any level of their minor leagues.

  2. […] Joe Janish of Mets Today takes a look at Jon Niese’s 2009 season, concluding, “Niese is nowhere near ready to be counted […]
  3. Harry Chiti October 21, 2009 at 1:11 pm
    I really enjoy your individual player reviews. Your point about the Mets and their prospects applies to just abput all prospects snce Minaya became GM. It would be fine to bring them up ealry and let them develop in NY if the Mets were rebuilding. But since they aren’t bringing them with too high a level of expectations has been nothing but a failed endeavor. One can sense that Ike Davis is the next prospect to be brought up too early and then be given up on too quickly. We shall see,
  4. Jeff October 21, 2009 at 2:49 pm
    My comments echo Mike’s, to some extent….

    I agree that Niese shouldn’t be counted on to be a big-time starter this year. But I’d rather see the Mets take a shot with a young guy rather than a Livan or a Redding, the sort that have proved they can’t get major-league hitters out at a replacement-player level. You’ll have to pay them more, and they have a track record of putting up weak numbers. Giving a Niese a shot–a shot, mind you, not committing to him–makes sense if you don’t have better options. Sure, you want to have extra arms in the organization, but I don’t think it’s crazy to think that Niese might be your #5. The Yankees had Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin pitching in the 5 slot and won 103 games.
    Plus I’m not sure the Mets brought Niese up because he was “great.” He was brought up both times because the Mets were awfully short on options. In 2008, with the penant on the line & Maine hurt, who would you rather see–Vargas, Figueroa, or Niese? Is there an appreciable difference between the three? Why not let the one with really good stuff throw? In 2009, with NO healthy arms left by July, why not bring Niese up to see what he can do? Nobody thought Niese would be Lineceum or Felix Hernandez. When did anyone claim Niese was at their level? The Mets never made him a centerpiece of anything, and outside of a few crazy fans who wanted Niese straight up for Halladay, neither did anyone else.

    Each time, the team made a move because they might have had a replacement that could’ve improved the team. That’s what the blog was calling for with midseason trades, right?

    So yes, don’t expect huge things. If he’s healthy and if he throws well in the spring–two big ifs, certainly–it wouldn’t be crazy to put him in the rotation. I don’t know you could say the Mets rushed him to the bigs, considering circumstances.

  5. joejanish October 21, 2009 at 5:34 pm
    Mike – yes, I’ve seen MMLR. A few things about Niese’s development: first, a cutter is a nice pitch to have but not nearly as important to a starting pitcher’s maturity as consistent command. This news about the cutter is a typical shortcut move by the Mets organization to push a guy into MLB duty — very similar to their decision to scrap Pelfrey’s curve and concentrate on the slider.

    Instead of spending time learning a cutter, Niese is better off using his time to find consistent timing, arm angle, and release with both his curveball and his fastball. The kid has the tools to be a dominant pitcher if he focuses on his current strengths. If he was able to consistently place his fastball in two different sections of the strike zone (pick two, any two), and throw a yellow hammer with tight spin and 12-6 rotation at least 75% of the time, he’d be ready to jump into the #5 spot.

    But if the Mets insist on force-feeding him to the bigs and adding pitches to his repertoire, he’s more likely to end up with Brian Stokes disease. Niese is only 22, what’s the rush?

    Jeff – I agree that it’s fine to give Niese an opportunity, and further agree that it’s irresponsible to count on him or expect him to be the #5 starter. The plan should be to have someone else in the #5 spot (Figueroa?) and make Niese beat him out of the position.

    But, I don’t like the comparison to the Yankees with Gaudin and Mitre. Gaudin and Mitre are known quantities, and “are what they are”. You’re not retarding their development by sending them out there every fifth day. With Niese I believe you can stunt his growth, and I point again to Pelfrey as an example. If Pelfrey had been given the time to develop either his curve or his change-up, he would not have taken a step back in 2009. He might not have been in the rotation until 2008, but once he arrived, he’d have been better equipped.