Buy ‘Em or Deny ‘Em: Why Jonathan Niese Is A Player That You Need To Target For 2013

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:

13 Wins
190.1 Innings
3.40 ERA
1.17 WHIP
155 Strikeouts (7.33 K/9)
49 Walks (2.32 BB/9)
.272 BABIP
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):

4 comments

  1. Nick Tenaglia says:

    I find it interesting that you would consider Niese a Buy ‘Em, given that his 2012 numbers were more of an outlier in comparison to his career numbers thus far.

    2012 saw Niese have career bests in Strand Rate (76.5% vs 68.6% career avg prior to ’12), BABIP (.272 vs .337 career avg prior to ’12) and WHIP (1.17 vs 1.46 career avg prior to ’12).

    Furthermore, his xBABIP has been almost exactly in synch with his actual BABIP numbers for his entire career, with the exception of 2012.
    2008 – .375 vs .349
    2009 – .317 vs .305
    2010 – .324 vs .326
    2011 – .333 vs .326
    2012 – .272 vs .330

    Lastly, his career best H/9 (8.23) and slightly-less-than-average K/9 (7.33) that he posted in 2012 could be complete anomalies when you look at the Plate Discipline numbers he put up. Prior to 2012, Niese was getting batters to swing on 45.3% of his pitches, and batters were making contact 81.9% of the time. In 2012, batters were swinging more (46.8%) and actually making better contact (83.3%). So when you couple more swings with more contact, you have to imagine that more hits should be generated, but in 2012 Niese actually produced fewer hits – something doesn’t jive with that for me.

    Now despite all of these numbers disproving that Niese is a really good “Buy ‘Em” candidate, I would not say that he is a true “Deny ‘Em” player. While I would consider 2012 to be an anomaly in Niese’s career, he is still young and his career is still a relatively small sample size.

    So my verdict is that he should be drafted as a player with the projections of a 10 Win / 4 ERA / 1.35 WHIP, but he has the upside to legitimately earn 14 Wins / 3.5 ERA / 1.20 WHIP. More simply, if I were in a keeper league, I would try to trade Niese for a player who was guaranteed 10+ Wins / 3.5 ERA / 1.20 WHIP (eg, Wandy Rodriguez, Ian Kennedy, Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy)

  2. Dave says:

    Niese sounds like a BABIP dependent pitcher to me. A sixty point drop in BABIP in 2012 took a full run off his ERA. It’s as simple as that. Yes, there were other factors (K%, BB%, HR/FB), but they only varied slightly from his previous two years. BABIP was the big change.

    We could just write his BABIP off as luck, but it’s not always luck [see Jeremy Hellickson]. A number of reasonable things could have contributed to his BABIP drop that could make it a sustainable change.

    - He made a change on the mound throwing his cut fastball more often and more effectively than previous years.

    - The Mets significantly improved their team defense, according to UZR, after ranking dead last in 2011.

    - The Mets joined the trend of using more shifts in 2013 (which may have also contributed to their improved UZR).

    Banking on a low BABIP isn’t the smartest thing to do, but neither is expecting a large regression–so maybe the Rotoprofessor and Nick can agree that he’s not a full “Buy ‘Em” or a total “Deny ‘Em”, but a “Try ‘Em.”

  3. Tuco says:

    Keeper league you like him more than Latos, Scherzer or Hanson?

  4. Rotoprofessor says:

    Nick – It’s not necessarily the numbers (and it also can’t always be looked at by results). Having watched him, and with the underlying metrics, there is no arguing that he has the skills to be a very good fantasy pitcher as he continues to mature and develop. Is there risk? Absolutely, but he has significantly more upside than guys like Rodriguez and Marcum. There is no chance I’d trade Niese for that type of player.

    Dave – Well put, and I also am not saying that I would go and overspend to get him. However, I see a skillset that should be productive, even with a regression in BABIP (as long as it doesn’t go all the way back to the .320s, which it shouldn’t).

    Tuco –
    Latos – Absolutely not, he’s a borderline Top 12-15 SP
    Scherzer – I could see debate (and they are closer than people think given Scherzer’s inconsistency), but I’d still go Scherzer
    Hanson – At this point, yes, I would prefer Niese by a lot actually

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