FanPost

Joel Sherman's Latest Lunacy Involving Jon Niese And Dillon Gee

(Bumped from FanPosts. --Eric)

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Joel Sherman has an article in the NY Post today, which he elaborates on in his blog, stating that the Mets were thinking of putting Jon Niese in the bullpen if he performed unfavorably yesterday, and allowing Dillon Gee to take his place. This is a beyond atrocious idea, and one I suspect (or seriously hope) was never seriously had by the Met front office. So It's time to play a little pitchf/x-Fire-Joe-Morgan game right here (though with less humor, sorry).

You see, the Mets had been so impressed with Dillon Gee that they were seeking ways to keep him in the rotation when Chris Young returns from the DL tomorrow. They didn't see Young, Chris Capuano or Mike Pelfrey as relief options.

But, The Post has learned, Mets officials had been privately discussing using Niese out of the pen.

The Mets were concerned Niese was dismissing his changeup (he had thrown just nine in four starts), which reduced him to more of a reliever-like repertoire of fastball and curve.


-Joel Sherman, New York Post

Now, lets start by being fair to Mr. Sherman here: he claims that The Post has learned that this is the case and that he's not just speculating. If so, this is even more amazingly stupid of the Mets and Dan Warthen. Anyhow:

Jon Niese has five pitches: 4-seam fastball, sinker (2-seam), cutter, curve, and change-up. Removing the Change-Up makes Jon Niese a FOUR PITCH PITCHER, which is very starter-like, rather than "reliever like."

Moreover, Jon Niese's pretty solid first season barely featured the change-up at all! Jon Niese threw the pitch just FOUR percent of the time last year, averaging barely 4 change-ups per start, and managing to throw ZERO change-ups in four entire starts last year. Niese only threw more than 5 change-ups in 6 starts last year out of 30. Clearly this was an important pitch, and not using it is TOTALLY the reason why Niese is struggling.

Still, he needs to slow down: To temper a hurried pace and refine his changeup. Recently, Josh Thole went to dinner with Niese and emphasized how an improved changeup would be a weapon playing off the lefty's two-seam fastball. Pitching coach Dan Warthen altered Niese's changeup grip by getting the pitcher to apply more pressure on the ball with his pointer finger.

Niese had hoped to throw 15 changeups yesterday. The scoreboard dictated a different strategy, and Niese did well with it. Still, in the long run, he must sharpen that third pitch.

Lets start one by one here:

Still, he needs to slow down: To temper a hurried pace and refine his changeup. Recently, Josh Thole went to dinner with Niese and emphasized how an improved changeup would be a weapon playing off the lefty's two-seam fastball.

First, it is true that a change-up could play off a two-seam fastball (also known as a sinker) in that the two pitches have basically the same movement. However, Niese DOES NOT USE HIS TWO-SEAM FASTBALL THAT FREQUENTLY! Niese used the pitch only 11.1% of the time last year. This year, Niese has managed to use the pitch a grand total of 14% of the time. At that rate, you use the two-seam fastball to PLAY OFF ANOTHER PITCH (The cutter or 4-seamer), rather than use another pitch to play off the two-seamer.

Of course, to be fair, Niese did spend one of his five starts using the two-seamer quite frequently. That was his third start against the Rockies (he threw 1 change-up in that start, incidentally). Since then, Niese has thrown the pitch only 12 times against the Astros and only 11 times yesterday against the DBacks. Clearly the two seamer should not be a reason to use another pitch like a change-up.

Pitching coach Dan Warthen altered Niese's changeup grip by getting the pitcher to apply more pressure on the ball with his pointer finger.

Second, Dan Warthen altered Niese's change-up grip? Really? Here's Niese's Change-up movement this year and last year:

Last Year: Horizontal Movement: 9.47 inches of tail in on LHBs, Vertical Movement: 3.73 inches of "rise", Avg Velocity: 81.1 MPH
This Year: Horizontal Movement: 9.20 inches of tail in on LHBs, Vertical Movement: 4.80 inches of "rise", Avg Velocity: 81.7 MPH.

Yep, big change there. Good Job Pitching Coach Dan Warthen, you managed to basically change nothing about the pitch (even the 1 extra inch of "rise" is well within the margin of error, and is hardly a good thing anyhow).

Now perhaps Sherman means that this conversation occurred REALLY recently, and thus Niese's last start was the first involving the newer change-up. Guess what: ALL SEVEN of the change-ups thrown yesterday basically had the same profile (maybe a tiny bit faster) as Niese's standard change-up this year. You're clearly doing good work, Dan

Niese had hoped to throw 15 changeups yesterday. The scoreboard dictated a different strategy, and Niese did well with it. Still, in the long run, he must sharpen that third pitch.

FIFTEEN change-ups?! Niese threw that many change-ups only one start last year (July 27th). Meanwhile, Niese only throws the change-up to opposite (Righty) handed hitters as this is the standard use of the change-up (Niese threw all of TWO total change-ups to left-handed batters last year). The DBacks rolled out a lineup yesterday with 4 left-hand hitters, meaning Niese hardly had plenty of opportunities to use the pitch (though Niese oddly threw 1 change-up to a left-handed batter yesterday....for a ball). I'd point out also that Niese doesn't even throw the two-seamer, which the change-up plays off of, more than 11-12 times per game on average, excepting that odd start against Colorado.

Meanwhile, Sherman continues to talk about the change-up as if it would give Niese a third pitch, when as previously discussed, Niese has FOUR OTHER PITCHES. And even if you count the two very different fastballs as the same pitch, what about the cutter? Why are you ignoring that Mr. Sherman, given that Niese threw the pitch 24% of the time last year! Alternatively, why are the METS not counting it? It is NOT the same at all as a fastball, and has been a key part of Niese's arsenal. (More on the cutter in a sec).

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Now Sherman posted on his blog an additional shpiel on this subject, so let me just take one more quote from that post:

In his first four starts, Niese threw just nine changeups, including just one in each of his second and third starts. The fear of Mets officials was that left Niese just a two-pitch pitcher and that many hitters were dismissing the curveball altogether and just waiting to try to clobber fastballs.

Josh Thole told me recently that he went to dinner with Niese and they spoke about the importance of refining the changeup, especially because it could be so deceptive working off of Niese’s 90-92 mph sinker. Thole said that Niese is committed to adding the pitch to his repertoire.

The plan was to throw 15 yesterday. But the scoreboard demanded otherwise. The Mets built an early big lead and so Niese was fixated on throwing strikes, challenging hitters and not allowing free passes. He threw just two changeups in the first four innings. However, you could see the potential impact of the pitch since they were delivered against Arizona’s two most dangerous righty hitters: In the first inning, Niese got Justin Upton to swing and miss on a changeup and in the second Arizona’s Chris Young popped to the catcher on a changeup.

Lets start at the end of this quote: Sherman talks about the potential impact of the pitch due to a pop-up and a swinging strike. A sample size of 2. Of course, 4 of the other 5 change-ups thrown by Niese yesterday were taken for balls! The pitch so far this year has a swinging strike rate of 7.1%, which would be average for a fastball, but is WAY below average for a change-up. It hasn't gotten ground balls either.

But wait, this is a small sample size also, so lets look at last year's change-up results:

Year Pitch Type Batter Handedness # Thrown Swing Rate Whiff Rate Swinging Strike Rate GB% In-Wide-Zone % Run Value
2010 Change-Up R 110 (4.67%)
41.82% 13.04% 5.45% 36% 53.64% +2.77

Yikes, those are awful numbers (Positive Run Values are bad for pitchers). So yes Mr. Sherman and the Mets, you can see the potential impact of this pitch: It is TERRIBLE right now. Clearly the answer is to throw it more often.

WHITHER THE CUTTER?

Oh and there's the first part of that quote again: "The fear of Mets officials was that left Niese just a two-pitch pitcher and that many hitters were dismissing the curveball altogether and just waiting to try to clobber fastballs." This once again ignores the fact that Niese has a great cutter. Do the Mets know this? You know the pitch that is terrific at getting swing-and-whiffs (12.5% swinging strike rate this year, roughly the same as last year) and has ground ball potential against left-handed batters? Why is it being ignored by these "Met Officials?"

Better question perhaps: WHY IS THE PITCH BEING ABANDONED BY NIESE?

Okay, abandon is a harsh word. But Niese's cutter was his #2 pitch last year. And it was terrific, despite him throwing the pitch 25.7% of the time. This year, the pitch's usage is WAY down, down to 16.2% (basically equivalent to the usage of the two-seamer/sinker). What's occurred is that Niese has substituted the curveball for the cutter quite a bit.

Now don't get me wrong, Niese's curve is a solid pitch. And increasing its usage is not a bad idea. However, the two pitches are COMPLIMENTARY: Niese's cutter can be used in place of the fastball and can hit the zone more often (useful in higher-ball counts), while the curveball can be used in those 0-2 counts (this is somewhat how Niese used the pitch last year, though not quite). Meanwhile, Niese's curveballs' results are solid....but not elite. They're basically average or below for a curveball, though the ground ball rate is up this year.

But the Cutter was truely a great pitch for Niese last year. There's no reason to skimp out on using it this year. If the Mets wished to increase Niese's curveball usage, they should have decreased his 4-seam fastball usage, not his cutter!

And yet, if Joel Sherman's sources are right, the Mets are completely oblivious to this and are focused on Jon Niese's change-up, a terrible pitch that he barely uses, to build off Niese's two-seamer/sinker, another pitch not frequently used. I really hope Sherman's "sources" are just figments of his imagination.

Because if they aren't, and the Mets truly do think this way of Niese then:

There. Are. No. Words.

This FanPost was contributed by a member of the community and was not subject to any vetting or approval process. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions, reasoning skills, or attention to grammar and usage rules held by the editors of this site.

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