Backup plan to Gio Gonzalez: Jonathon Niese


The Winter Meetings are a stressful time for GM’s and players alike. It seems like everyone is on the trade block these days, and many teams are rebuilding for the future. One of those teams is the Mets. Earlier this week, it was reported that they were interested in dealing Daniel Murphy, and they had some interest in Andy Dirks. Subsequently, they made a move for Andres Torres, who is most likely projected as the starter right now, because of the uncertainty of prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ shoulder after last year’s labrum tear. Dirks could still fit into the team as a utility outfielder. In addition to looking to move murphy, the Mets will move anyone on their roster not named David Wright or Ike Davis. New York doesn’t have very many tradable commodities, but 25 year old Johnathon Niese is being coveted by a few teams looking for pitching help, and would be a great left-handed backup plan for Gio Gonzalez for the Tigers.

On the surface, Niese isn’t a sexy pitcher. He doesn’t throw overwhelmingly hard, nor is he electric by any means. He has a career 4.39 ERA in two full years as a starter, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. His career peripherals look extremely similar to a current Tigers pitcher, Max Scherzer, as shown below:

FIP: 3.85
xFIP: 3.68
K/9: 8.72
BB/9: 3.06
K/BB: 2.85
SWSTR%: 10.1

FIP: 3.77
xFIP: 3.64
K/9: 7.65
BB/9: 2.99
K/BB: 2.56
SWSTR%: 8.1

The main difference between these two pitchers is GB%, 40% for Scherzer, and closer to 50% for Neise, LOB% and BABIP. Niese has the single highest BABIP for any qualified starter over the last two years at .328, and also the 11th lowest LOB% at 68.9. Basically, he’s been one of the unluckiest starters in the league. The idea isn’t to directly compare him to Scherzer, but to show how Niese, with normal luck, could actually be an effective starter, and maybe even a very good starter. His SIERA, which shows what his ERA would look like with average luck put him at a 3.42 last season, and his xFIP was a 3.28 as well.

As far as Niese’s contract situation, he’s young, pre-arbitration, and under team control until after the 2015 season. As a cheap starter, he gives the Tigers flexibility to potentially move a starter like Rick Porcello or even Scherzer himself, for a two way positional player if they desire.

If the Tigers swung a deal for Niese, hopefully they’d get young infielder Daniel Murphy in return as well. The peripherals look similar to what Drew Smyly could put up in his prime. The Mets may like he, dirks, and another decent prospect in return, and it’d be a nice deal for both sides.