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Jon Niese wasn’t a fan of the Pirates’ use of defensive shifting

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The Mets brought Jon Niese back on Monday, sending reliever Antonio Bastardo to the Pirates ahead of Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

You may recall that, when the Mets traded Niese to the Pirates in December, the lefty praised the Pirates’ defense. Via Bernie Augustine of the New York Daily News, he said, “I’m sure what I’ll appreciate more than anything is the way (the Pirates) play defense. I’m looking forward to that.”

Niese’s comments were also taken as an insult to the Mets’ defense.

Now back with the Mets, Niese is walking that back. Per Marc Carig of Newsday, Niese said, “It’s unfortunate the way it got turned around but [it’s] certainly not what I meant by it. I’ve talked to a lot of the guys in the clubhouse and they respect me and I respect them and always loved them from the first time I played for them.”

Niese then criticized the Pirates’ defense, saying, “Sometimes, reinventing the game isn’t the best idea. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t.”

Niese left the Pirates with a 4.91 ERA and a 76/38 K/BB ratio in 110 innings. If the season were to end today, it would be the worst season of his career, at least by ERA. Blaming the Pirates’ defense seems weak. The error is by no means a terrific stat, but the Pirates have committed only 55 of them this season, the fourth-fewest total in the National League.

In fact, Niese’s problems have more to do with factors in his control. His 7.7 percent walk rate matches his highest rate since 2010. He’s allowed 21 home runs already, one shy of matching his career high. As a percentage of fly balls, his 21.6 percent HR/FB rate is by far a career high and is the highest rate in the majors among qualified pitchers. Niese’s 15.5 percent strikeout rate is more than two percent lower than his career average and only six other pitchers have a lower rate.

Niese has induced ground balls at an above-average rate of 53 percent. But his .244 BABIP on ground balls this year is actually below his career average ground ball BABIP of .250. If shifts were hurting him, his ground ball BABIP should be much higher.

Royals outfielder Gordon to retire after 14 seasons

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Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, the former first-round pick whose rollercoaster career took him from near bust to All-Star and Gold Glove winner, announced Thursday he will retire after the season.

Gordon was the second overall pick in the 2005 first-year player draft following a standout career at Nebraska, where he won the Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur in baseball. He made his big league debut two years later and, after a few years shuttling back and forth to the minors, moved from third base to the outfield and finally found success.

He wound up playing his entire 14-year career in Kansas City, joining only George Brett and Frank White as position players with that much longevity with the franchise. He heads into a weekend four-game series against Detroit with the third-most walks (682), fourth-most homers (190), fifth-most doubles (357) and sixth-most games played (1,749) in club history.

The three-time All-Star also holds the dubious distinction of being the Royals’ career leader in getting hit by pitches.

While he never quite hit with the kind of average the Royals hoped he would, Gordon did through sheer grit turn himself into one of the best defensive players in the game. He is the only outfielder to earn seven Gold Gloves in a nine-year span, a number that trails only White’s eight for the most in franchise history, and there are enough replays of him crashing into the outfield wall at Kauffman Stadium or throwing out a runner at the plate to run for hours.

Gordon won the first of three defensive player of the year awards in 2014, when he helped Kansas City return to the World Series for the first time since its 1985 championship. The Royals wound up losing to the Giants in a seven-game thriller, but they returned to the Fall Classic the following year and beat the Mets in five games to win the World Series.

It was during the 2015 that Gordon hit one of the iconic homers in Royals history. His tying shot off Mets closer Jeurys Familia in Game 1 forced extra innings, and the Royals won in 14 to set the tone for the rest of the World Series.

Gordon signed a one-year contract to return this season, and he never considered opting out when the coronavirus pandemic caused spring training to be halted and forced Major League Baseball to play a dramatically reduced 60-game schedule.

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