According to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, we have the Blue Jays, Padres, Red Sox, Rockies and Yankees all in on Mets left-hander Jonathan Niese. And it’s easy to see why teams would be interested. Niese is a 25-year-old left-hander making close to the minimum with a decent track record and pretty legitimate stuff.
The most intriguing thing about Niese is that he’s fanned 7.65 batters per nine innigs as a major leaguer. That’s a better mark than Dan Haren, James Shields, Matt Cain or Cliff Lee. CC Sabathia barely tops him at 7.68. Being that strikeout rate is pretty much the best indicator available for future success, it’s no surprise there’s quite a bit of demand for Niese.
But there’s something to be very cautious about here, too. Niese appears to suffer from Glendon Rusch disease, in that he gives up hits at a much greater rate than one would expect given his strikeout and home run rates. The major league batting average on balls in play last year was .291. Niese finished at .333. Usually when something like that happens, it gets written off as a fluke and the pitcher gets talked about as a bounce-back candidate for the next year.
It doesn’t appear to be a fluke with Niese, though. He came in at .324 in 2010. In 2009, he was at .313 in Triple-A and .317 in five major league starts. In 2008, he was at .304 in the minors and .375 in three major league starts. In 2007, he was at .340 in high-A ball.
In Niese’s case, this likely has a lot to do with a lack of fastball movement. He can get swings and misses, particularly with his breaking balls, but hitters tend to line up hit fastball pretty well. It’s not something that figures to change, so Niese may well be one of those guys who is never quite as good as his peripherals.
That doesn’t mean he’s not worth having; Niese is still a perfectly acceptable No. 4 starter as is. But the price will be significant, and teams expecting him to break through will probably be disappointed.
The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.
In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.
On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.
Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.