Entering his age-25 season this year, Jon Niese fits squarely into the middle of the Mets’ rotation. Drafted by the organization back in the seventh round of the 2005 draft, Niese began his professional career at the age of 18, gradually working his way up to New Orleans, the Mets’ AAA affiliate at the time, as a 21-year-old in 2008. He didn’t post dazzling numbers at any stop along the way, but as a left-handed starter with decent results, he was thrust into the midst of the Mets’ September failure that year, making three starts. One was a brilliant eight-inning outing against the Braves, but he allowed 11 runs in only 6 innings over the other two. Niese split his time between the Bisons and Mets in the early part of 2009, but when it looked like he’d get a shot at pitching for the second half of the season, he went down to a gruesome hamstring injury that cost him the rest of the year.
In 2010 and 2011, Niese became a member of the Mets’ rotation, albeit a bit of a puzzling one. At times, he’s pitched very, very well, but his career 4.39 ERA thus far doesn’t fall in line with his 3.77 FIP or 3.64 xFIP. In each of the past two years, Niese’s strikeout and walk percentages have been better than the league average, but his ERA has been worse. In both seasons, Niese struggled mightily down the stretch, and he did not throw 200 innings in either. It’s also worth noting that Niese’s BABIP over the past two years is .328, the sixth-highest mark for pitchers who have thrown at least 200 total innings in that time.
Looking ahead, it remains to be seen whether or not Niese can produce results match what his peripherals suggest. It’s possible that he’s already established what he is at this level, striking out and walking opponents at a desirable rate but giving up so many hits that it erases his good work, making him just a decent pitcher. Despite that, I’ll take the slightly optimistic view on Niese this year and say this will be his first season with a sub-4.00 ERA, which should slot in nicely behind R.A. Dickey and well ahead of Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee.