In all this talk about the New York Mets and their bright pitching future, Jon Niese has been overlooked. His upside has not been projected as high as that of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, but it was lofty enough at one time for the Mets to give him a long-term deal.
The Mets eschewed numerous trade overtures for him, instead opting to keep him as a building block because he’s a hard-throwing left-hander who experienced success and has a controllable contract.
However, he’s overlooked for a reason.
The Mets extended Niese’s contract with the expectation he’d lift them in games like tonight in Atlanta, where he’d be the difference between a winning and losing series. There’s not a high degree of confidence in him tonight.
After winning a career-high 13 games last year, Niese has not progressed. Yes, a case can be made to explain his 3-6 record because of a lack of run support, but there’s that sticky matter of a 4.15 ERA.
Niese pitched in consecutive sub-30 degree games in Minnesota and Denver and came away with stiffness in his back. No doubt, that is a contributing factor to his mediocre numbers, but what about his 1.57 WHIP?
In only four of his last ten starts has he gone into the seventh inning or further. The Mets have lost eight of those starts, and Niese has one victory in that span to his ledger.
One could argue Niese’s ERA is attributable in large part to giving up seven and eight runs in consecutive starts, but you could counter that by saying staff anchors must find away to minimize the damage, something Niese has yet to master.
This year Harvey, despite his limited experience, has proven more adept at escaping big innings than Niese. What Wheeler showed three times Tuesday night was something the Mets needed from Niese last weekend against the Cubs.
Since then, he has been outpitched by Harvey consistently, and Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner over the past month. Currently, based on merit, Niese’s performance is indicative of a fifth starter at best, which is where he would be if the Mets dropped Shaun Marcum from the rotation.
I would still hold onto Niese for the same reasons: being a hard-throwing left-hander with a reasonable contract. There’s reason to believe there’s an upside to Niese, but he must start to outpitch his paltry support and perform to his expectations. He has to pitch better than his team, as all good pitchers must.
The Mets signed Niese to a long-term deal because they believed they could build around him. It is time Niese lives up to that faith.
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