Let’s not go overboard for Jonathan Niese now

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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.

Oakland Athletics reverse course, will continue to pay minor leaguers

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Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Oakland Athletics owner John Fisher has reversed course and will continue to pay minor leaguers. Fisher tells Slusser, “I concluded I made a mistake.” He said he is also setting up an assistance fund for furloughed employees.

The A’s decided in late May to stop paying paying minor leaguers as of June 1, which was the earliest date on which any club could do so after an MLB-wide agreement to pay minor leaguers through May 31 expired. In the event, the A’s were the only team to stop paying the $400/week stipends to players before the end of June. Some teams, notable the Royals and Twins, promised to keep the payments up through August 31, which is when the minor league season would’ve ended. The Washington Nationals decided to lop off $100 of the stipends last week but, after a day’s worth of blowback from the media and fans, reversed course themselves.