The biggest concern with Jonathan Niese has always been his ability not only to work deep into the season, but to do so effectively and not suffer from a late season swoon. The fact that he posted a 3.01 ERA in the second half (compared to a 3.73 mark prior to the All-Star Break) is icing on the cake. Overall his numbers were impressive and leaves fantasy owners anxiously waiting to see what 2013 has in store:
155 Strikeouts (7.33 K/9)
49 Walks (2.32 BB/9)
76.5% Strand Rate
It is definitely nice to see his BABIP end up where it was, though that doesn’t necessarily mean it was fully believable. His line drive rate sat at 21.0% in 2012, the third straight season he was at 20.6% or higher (which are the three big league seasons he has pitched at least 150 innings). Considering he only had one month below 19.3%, which was April, it is something that needs to be considered.
It is not impossible that he maintains this type of BABIP with a similar line drive rate but it is highly unlikely. Of the 42 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title in 2012 and posted a line drive rate of at least 21%, only eight posted a BABIP below .280. In other words, unless he figures out how to get opposing batters to hit the ball a little less loudly, a regression is in order.
That’s not to say that a rise in BABIP means he is going to be a disaster. He has consistently posted a K/9 between 7.3 and 7.9 in his three full years in the Majors. When you couple that with a 48.9% career groundball rate, things look even better. However, it’s the improving control that can really put him over the top:
- 2010 – 3.21
- 2011 – 2.52
- 2012 – 2.32
He actually flashed even better control at times, posting consecutive months of 1.35, 0.77 and 1.74. Obviously we aren’t about to project him out to be that good, but it just continues to show his development as a pitcher.
That type of control, with his solid strikeout rate and ability to induce groundballs makes him the perfect type of pitcher to target. He is still just 26-years old, so he is just entering his prime and has the make-up to become a fantasy ace, assuming he can learn to limit the line drive rate.
Even if he doesn’t, you are looking at a pitcher who could post a mid-3.00 ERA with a 1.20-1.24 WHIP. If he gets even better in the line drive department, you are talking about a pitcher who can be even better than he was in 2012. Either way, it’s a pitcher I want to own in 2013 and beyond.
What are your thoughts of Niese? How do you see him producing in 2013? Is he a pitcher you want to own?
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Make sure to check out our extremely early 2013 rankings (all of which will be updated in the next few weeks):