Jon Niese Could Be a Valuable Reliever

Last year, when it was apparent he was not going to be a part of the postseason rotation, Jon Niese volunteered to go to the bullpen. As it turned out, he became a valuable part of the Mets postseason bullpen. 

In five of Niese’s six postseason appearances, he did not permit a run. He was nearly perfect over 4.1 innings allowing just two hits while striking out five batters. He got a big strikeout of Anthony Rizzo in Game Two of the NLCS:

He kept the Mets alive in Game One of the World Series with two huge scoreless innings in the 10th and 11th innings. He bailed Steven Matz out of a tight sixth inning while seemingly being the only Mets pitcher to get Eric Hosmer out in a big spot. In a do-or-die Game Five, he pitched a scoreless tenth. Overall, Niese was terrific in big spots, and he came through when the Mets needed him most. It really was shocking given his well-earned reputation as a head case. 

In the offseason, the Mets traded him for Neil Walker, and even under the tutelage of arguably the best pitching coach in the game, Niese has been terrible going 7-6 with a 5.13 ERA, 1.574 WHIP, 80 ERA+, and a 5.49 FIP. These are easily the worst stats of his career, and as a result, Niese finds himself back in the bullpen. 

Somewhat surprisingly, the Mets are interested in a reunion with Niese. They’re possibly interested with Logan Verrett failing to recapture the magic he had as a spot starter last year. The Mets have to at least contemplate Niese as Sean Gilmartin and Gabriel Ynoa have pitched poorly over the past few months. Furthermore, the Mets do not seem inclined to stretch out Seth Lugo and give him a chance to start

Certainly, you can understand the Mets interest in Niese. However, it is still hard to imagine Niese is a better option for the rotation than the Mets internal candidates. It may be one of the reasons why the Mets are more interested in improving the bullpen than by adding Niese to the rotation. Given his performance last postseason, perhaps Niese could be the bullpen answer. 

There is some evidence from this season that Niese could be a useful bullpen piece.  In his first two innings of work, he has a 2.50 ERA. In his first inning of work, batters are hitting .234/.269/.375. In his second inning of work, batters are hitting .217/.308/.406. With runners in scoring position batters are hitting .250/.332/.352. When there are two outs and runners in scoring position, batters are hitting .093/.170/.140. 

Looking at these numbers, it’s fair to conclude that Niese has started games well but has fallen apart from the third inning on. These numbers should improve with Niese being reunited with Dan Warthen and with him maxing out for an inning or two. If Niese were to move to the bullpen, he could have a career renaissance similar to Oliver Perez, who was another unpopular Mets lefty starter who faltered. 

With that in mind, Niese could be the exact pitcher the Mets are looking to add. Once he’s in the fold, the Mets can then figure out what to do for the last spot in the rotation. 

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