Opinion: Jon Niese is this team’s ace, despite a dip in velocity

Maggie Wiggin, Contributor

Jon Niese will take the mound Tuesday night as the ace of his team’s rotation, leading them in ERA (2.54), innings pitched (85), and WAR (1.9).

After an injury-plagued Spring Training and just a year removed from a potentially devastating rotator cuff injury, expectations were low for Niese, both in terms of performance and durability. However, he has excelled in both of these regards, despite – or perhaps because of – a drop in his fastball velocity of over a full mile per hour…



Jon Niese delivers a change-up


Niese has stood in contrast to most of his fellow pitchers by showing an active awareness of his own injury concerns, whether by pulling himself out of his start prior to the shoulder injury last season or by slowing down his rehab during the Spring. It may be that his restrained pitching approach this season is reflecting his desire to stay strong and healthy throughout the season, especially in the face of increasing evidence that ties pitcher injury to consistent pitching at max effort.

By reducing the velocity on his fastball and mixing in more offspeed pitches, Niese could be, intentionally or unintentionally, protecting himself from overtaxing his arm.

A decrease in velocity is strongly correlated with a loss of effectiveness, but Niese is having the best season of his career. So how is he doing it?

To start with, he’s never been dependent on blowing hitters away for his success. His career strikeout rate is just over 7.0 per nine innings, so his game has always been to let batters put the ball in play, an approach that is less dependent on velocity.

We’re also seeing Niese mix his pitches better than ever. He’s always had a solid curveball and cutter, but both are hittable if he’s throwing them too predictably. Right now, he’s throwing five different pitches at least 10% of the time – a 2-seam fastball, a 4-seam fastball, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup. That changeup is being used more than ever this season and with good results.

Not only is Niese using five different pitches, he’s changing his game plan every start. His last time out, he held the Brewers to just one run over 7 2/3 innings pitched using mostly his 2-seamer and his changeup with almost no cutters. The start before, he had similar success against the Giants while throwing his cutter more than any other pitch. Prior to that, he dominated the Phillies with his 4-seamer, using his curveball and changeup only sparingly.

This pattern of wide variability is something Niese has shown all season and it reflects a mature pitcher who knows his stuff and, moreover, knows his opponent. These smarts will keep him effective regardless of how hard he’s throwing – and should set a solid example for the young pitchers the Mets’ future is depending on.




32 comments
Tim Scott
Tim Scott

He's turning into Johan Santana. Pitching gems and no getting any credit for it. He's definitely the ace this year with Harvey on the dl but I'd say he's a solid #3 guy in the rotation

mrmet4mvp
mrmet4mvp

Sandy Alderson just issued a statement that Niese has the ability to increase his velocity to match what he used to throw, but he won't do so until the fans contribute something by increasing attendance at Mets home games.

Lex Meagher
Lex Meagher

Good piece...one nitpick....7 Ks per 9 is a pretty decent rate. Not league leading, but solid.

1harris1
1harris1

Niese might be the "ace" of our staff this year, but I'm not sure that he's a true ace of a staff that has a legitimate chance of winning something of consequence. He's been terrific though this season (it's a crime his record is only 3-3).

He's turned out to be a reliable pitcher performance wise, with the added benefit of being left handed on a staff where every other starter is a righty. Knock on wood that he stays healthy.

robby
robby

Maggie you hit it right on the button he is our Ace.  Smart interesting positive writing with great Insight and research that makes sense.  Please continue contributing more.  Us Met Fans really need it.  thanks

jenkins
jenkins

Good story. Niese should be 9-3 and on the all star team. Very underrated starter. Very smart pitcher.

nwmets
nwmets

Opinion: Maggie is this blog's ace, despite a dip in contributions.

Russ Sullivan
Russ Sullivan

I like Neise a lot. But he's a 3 or 4 pitcher.

Mark Rakentine
Mark Rakentine

Every start, Wheeler reminds me more and more of John Maine....

Mark Rakentine
Mark Rakentine

That may be true, but that just proves the Mets rotation needs some serious improvement....because Niese is a number 4 at best on most teams.

William O'Sullivan
William O'Sullivan

Wow, excellent, insightful piece, backed up by solid research.  Hat tip to Maggie.

Daniel Thomas
Daniel Thomas

i truly wish that ownership would read the comments section of this blog to get the pulse of the fanbase. i know that sandy does, or has people read it for him. this is not sandy's fault, my friends. he's been duped like the rest of us.


any bit of news posted is received with vitriol and cynicism because, at the end of the day, what could be newsworthy when the subject isn't worthy? 

you know things are bad when the fans start to feel bad for the players. we've been feeling bad for ourselves since 2007, that's a given at this point. now we actually feel bad for the players who deserve to win--or at least a fighting chance. 

the pulse is dampening. what's worse than hatred? apathy. 

apathy, ladies and gentleman, doesn't fill stadium seats. the youth are distracted by everything, they've no choice these days. as sports and entertainment conflate into one general enterprise, there are endless options to choose from. and even more ways of engaging. of distracting. does the youth of new york even know who the mets are? or do they know and simply not care? either potential makes for an even bleaker future, if there are no fans to even muster. that's where we're heading - have already headed. 

Michael Frias
Michael Frias

He's pitching well, so trade him, and replace him with a pitcher that's not major league ready.  Like how a lot of people want us to trade Daniel Murphy.

That way, we can continue to complain about how this team is just a bunch of minor league talent, and we need more established players on the team, like Jon Niese and Daniel Murphy would be.

Jeff Robins
Jeff Robins

You mean he's a pitcher? Ya think? Who cares about his velocity if he gets the batter out? The young pitchers can learn a lot from Niese? I watched Wheeler throw 8 pitches to get the first two batters out the other day and then 18 to get the third out (pretty certain). How far into the game are you going to get when you throw 26 pitches in the first inning? Our young pitchers need to economize on their pitch counts and realize it's not all about blowing away the batters. It seems like our young pitchers are just going through the motions right now. Could be depressing with the lack of run support. But they need to be building on the experience for next year, now.

dannym28
dannym28

stop pitching your way off the team jon, i like you

nwmets
nwmets

Have a Niese day!

vimets
vimets

All the more reason why I feel the Wilpons will eventually move the Mets to another city.