“The foursome of [Zack] Wheeler, the pitching prospect acquired in the Carlos Beltran trade, [Jeurys] Familia, [Matt] Harvey, and Jenrry Mejia, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, form a nice future nucleus. Throw in Dillon Gee and Jon Niese, perhaps even Mike Pelfrey, and the Mets should have the type of pitching around which to build a contender.”
This is not to criticize Harper for this piece, which illustrates nicely the extent to which the Mets are now collecting high-upside pitching prospects. But I think it reflects the way Jon Niese has simply been overlooked. And I’m not sure exactly why that is.
Niese doesn’t have a signature plus-plus pitch, I guess, though an arsenal with several pitches he can throw for strikes is more important. His win totals, not that it should matter, haven’t been impressive the way Dillon Gee’s have been in 2011. But of the entire list Harper mentioned, Niese is easily the best bet to be a frontline starting pitcher for the Mets in 2013.
Consider that Niese has followed up his 3.80 xFIP over 173 2/3 innings in 2010 with a 3.21 xFIP so far in 2011. That 2011 mark is 18th in all of baseball among starting pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched this season. It also rankes Niese ahead of pitchers like Dan Haren, Tim Hudson, Jon Lester, Ian Kennedy, Michael Pineda, and virtually everyone else.
Of the 17 pitchers ahead of Niese, only two are younger: Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner. Niese is just .01 behind Felix Hernandez, who is older than Niese. So is David Price.
Incidentally, so is Dillon Gee.
This is not to suggest that Zack Wheeler or Matt Harvey aren’t strong pitching prospects. But Harvey’s xFIP has only been a bit better than Niese’s in 2011. Familia’s and Wheeler’s have been about the same. And that’s been at high-A primarily for those three, while Niese has been doing it against major league hitters.
In 2013, Niese will be entering his age-26 season. It is possible that there will be pitchers with a brighter future than Niese at that point, or that Niese could get injured between now and then.
But that list is likely to be a small one, and there isn’t a better bet to be an excellent pitcher anywhere in the Met organization. He certainly deserves more than getting listed as an afterthought.