2010 Analysis: Fernando Nieve
Nieve isn’t currently on the Mets’ 40-man roster, and he finished the year in AAA Buffalo, and he didn’t pitch for the Mets after July 21, but I felt it necessary to evaluate him anyway.
Despite being on the roster for only 95 games, Nieve found his way into 40 of them. He appeared in 20 of the team’s first 31 games of the year, a pace that had him on course to threaten Mike Marshall’s MLB record of 106 games in one season. Manager Jerry Manuel kept putting Nieve on the mound, seemingly intent on seeing his arm fall off.
Manuel’s argument was that Nieve was his best option out of the bullpen at the time – and to an extent it was true, as Fernando held batters to a .191 average in April. But continually putting Nieve into ballgames was blatantly irresponsible and screamed of desperation by a manager managing for the short-term security of his job rather than for long-term production of a team over the course of a 162-game season.
Nieve had impressed us briefly in 2009 with three stellar starts and a handful of so-so ones before a thigh injury ended his season. Once a triple-digit flamethrower, Nieve was still recovering from Tommy John surgery executed in late 2007. Considering it can take two years (or more) to fully recover from that procedure, one could surmise that the thigh injury stunted his rehab – that he was still on his way to regaining his full velocity (or at least close to it) when his 2009 season ended.
Which made it all the more quizzical that Manuel insisted on inserting Nieve into games; in addition to the health of his arm, there was the fact that Nieve was not used to relieving. Prior to 2010, Nieve appeared in 30 MLB games as a reliever (29 in 2006), and 38 games in 9 minor-league seasons. He pitched in back-to-back games five times in ’06 – and that was as a 23-year-old, before his elbow injury. In comparison, Manuel sent Nieve to the mound without rest 12 times in 2010; with one day of rest, another 12 times. Considering that Nieve had absolutely no experience with that kind of intensive workload, and was technically still coming back from TJ surgery, it was no surprise that his performance dropped significantly by late May – nor that he was equally ineffective afterward in his 8 starts with Buffalo.
Nieve has pretty good stuff – a hard sinking fastball that hovers in the 92-94 range, a slider that stays down, and both a curveball and changeup that have potential. I believe sincerely that he can be a decent middle reliever for a manager that understands how to properly manage a bullpen, with the potential to be a legit setup man if he can ever regain his mid- to upper-90s heat. At the same time, he could develop into a back-of-the-rotation innings eater if he can gain consistent command of either the changeup or the curve.
I can’t confirm, but I believe that Nieve is currently a free agent. He turned 28 in July, so there’s still a chance his body can get back to pushing the ball in the 95-MPH range. Personally, I hope the Mets can retain him on a minor league deal, as he has a chance to at least become an inexpensive option for the pitching staff – be it as a starter or from the bullpen.