I've been a fan of Jonathon Niese from a numbers standpoint, but there's been a sort of pessimism regarding his career upside. He's always typed as a mid-rotation guy and the Mets seemed to hesitate a little with giving him the ball in the past. I didn't get it - he didn't have huge strikeout rates in the minor leagues (7.83 K/9 career in the minors) - but he had good control (2.99 BB/9), a nice ground ball rate (52%) and at least two pitches in his fastball and curve. I thought he had a good chance to be a real-life #2.
Now he's pitching every day in the majors and doing okay, but there are some worrisome signs. He's walking too many (4.5 BB/9) and has been hittable at times. To be fair, not all of his walks were his fault, as James showed yesterday.
Even if this is just small sample size issue, there is one thing that puzzles me about his production, and in particular his curve. If you watch the curveball, it looks nice. But if you look at the curveball's linear weights over a nice large-ish sample (-0.6 runs career), it's not a very impressive pitch. The pitch only gets 8.1% whiffs, too - and the major league average is 8.5% (whiff rate is swing-throughs per pitch, not swing). So his curveball is a below-average pitch?
I thought I'd go to the game pitch f/x graphs to see if there was anything I could spot. There was one thing. Take a look at his release points for his pitches:
It looks like Niese is tipping his curveball with his release point. Just for comparison's sake, here are Adam Wainwright's release points.
Wainwright releases his curveball a little higher than his other pitches - just the nature of the pitch I guess - but I would say that it's closer in to the rest of his pitches so that batters can't spot it coming right away. I mean, take a look at one last picture, which is a pitch visualization chart for Niese's pitching oevre. The release point for his curve seems to suggest that it's easy to spot it early. Maybe Niese's curveball could get more whiffs if he could bring that release point in closer to his other pitches?