Jonathan Niese is a pitcher that clearly has a ton of ability. The 25-year old southpaw has shown it in his secondary numbers over the past two seasons, though his actual statistics have far from lived up to the hype. As we head into 2012 fantasy owners have to wonder what could be possible. It is a pretty good assumption that he is going to improve on his performance, but the real question is exactly how much?
Let’s take a look at our first wild prediction of the season (For new readers this is something I’ve done for the past few years. As you read these columns keep in mind that they are not my actual projections. Instead they are things that I believe have a chance of happening, though less than 20% of the time):
Jonathan Niese will post an ERA below 3.00
Niese is a pitcher that many viewed as a potential breakout candidate heading into 2011, though he ended up being a major disappointment by posting a 4.40 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. However, it wasn’t the skills that did him in:
- K/9 = 7.89
- BB/9 = 2.52
- GB% = 51.5%
The 24-year old actually took major steps forward across the board prior to having his season cut short for the second consecutive season. After seeing him post a 7.67 K/9 and 3.21 BB/9 in his rookie campaign, the improved numbers are not unrealistic.
Over his minor league career he had posted an 8.16 K/9 and 3.10 BB/9. With another year of experience it shouldn’t be a surprise that he continues to mature and improve. As it is, just look at his K/9 and BB/9 over the final three months of the year:
- June (31.1 IP) – 8.33 K/9 & 2.01 BB/9
- July (36.2 IP) – 9.08 K/9 & 1.72 BB/9
- August (22.2 IP) – 8.74 K/9 & 1.99 BB/9
In June he actually posted an ERA of 3.16 with believable luck (.297 BABIP and 76.9% strand rate). It just goes to show you that, with a little bit of luck and consistency, how good he could possibly be.
When you have that type of skillset you would think there would be plenty of success. However, his luck defied him in 2011. He posted a .333 BABIP and 67.0% strand rate, both numbers that you would think would have to improve in his third full season in the Major Leagues. If he can maintain those skills coupled with better luck, it is not a stretch that he is going to improve his performance.
His supporting cast isn’t likely going to do him any favors (especially as a groundball pitcher with Daniel Murphy potentially playing 2B), but the numbers alone do not lie. With the way he was pitching at the end of last season it is hard not to look at him and expect significantly better numbers. It is not even that he needs to be overly lucky to enjoy better numbers, he just needs to be league average and he is going to get there.
Chances of Happening – 10%
It would easy to expect him to post an ERA under 4.00, something that I would put at around an 80% mark. Under 3.50 is probably 50/50, though it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. He has the potential to bring a solid groundball rate with good control and nearly a strikeout per inning. In other words he may bring the perfect combination of skills to the table. A 3.00 mark clearly would put him among the elite in the league (there were 16 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title who achieved the feat in ’11), but is it that crazy?
With his skillset and the way he pitched prior to getting injured in ’11 it wouldn’t be a surprise if he reached that feat. At the least he is a tremendous sleeper heading into the 2012 season with the potential to post impressive numbers across the board.
What are the chances that Jonathan Niese posts such a good ERA in ’12? How good do you think he is going to be? Is he a pitcher you are going to target on draft day?
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Make sure to check out our other 2012 projections: