2012 Wild Prediction/Breakout Potential: Just How Good Can Jonathan Niese Be?

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?

***** Pre-order the Rotoprofessor 2012 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide, complete with updates from January through the start of the season, for just $6!  To place your order click here. *****

Make sure to check out our other 2012 projections:

5 comments

  1. Sawyer says:

    I agree. I’ve stuck with the guy on my team for a couple of years now with no payoff yet. I guess I’m going to the well again in 2012.

    Any thought on a likely projection for him in 2012? In the 15 W / 185 K / 3.50 ERA / 1.30 WHIP range?

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      The strikeouts may be slightly high, but otherwise those are very realistic marks. At the same time, I’d say it’s about 50/50 that he far exceeds them.

      • jmax says:

        Great piece! I enjoyed this type of article. Simple and informative.
        But 15 wins really?? A 50/50 chance of exceeding that?? With that squad around him?? Im no expert but I’d expect him to face an uphill battle in the win coloumn similar to what Anibal Sanchez faced last yr. If that lineup stays healthy (a big IF) I could believe him to max at 15 wins. But like I said Im no expert.

        • jmax says:

          I believe Rotochamp estimates 9 wins….

        • Rotoprofessor says:

          That’s definitely fair, and I shouldn’t have given it a blanket 50/50. In totality, I would say it’s 50/50 he exceeds the projection, but I agree it’s nearly impossible that he reaches 15 W.

          I’d put the over/under at around 12, but we all know how fluky wins can be at times.

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