With Week 3 coming to a close, typically I like to take a look at who has been a particularly unlucky starter at this juncture of the baseball season. To date, one name keeps popping up as not only being “unlucky,” but routinely unlucky during each of his first 4-5 starts: Jonathan Niese.
As any Mets fan will tell you, ticket advertisements attempted to bring fans back to the ballpark by promising baseball played “the right way.” Fans will also tell you that these ads were bold faced lies as the Mets are, once again, on of the most fundamentally UNsound teams in the majors. This is where our boy Jon Niese comes in:
In 23 innings, he’s rocking a .333 BABIP. Your average starter should probably have this number be closer to the .290 area. The further below .290 you go, the (seemingly) luckier a starter has been. In the case of poor Jon Niese, he’s been almost 40 points deep into unlucky territory. Now, this isn’t entirely attributed to just plain “bad luck.” Niese is averaging almost 4 walks per 9 innings pitched, which, to be blunt, sucks. What saves that number from delivering a Oliver Perez-like outcome is his ground-ball percentage (GB%) and strand-rate (LOB%). In 2011, Niese’s GB% sits on the good-side of 50% at 56%. His strand rate, however, leaves something to be desired as it registers in the mid-60’s.
Here’s the good news on Niese: If he walks fewer batters and his luck improves, you could be looking at a pretty undervalued SP for June, July, and (maybe) August. The bad news: his walk rate has always been God-awful. His minor league stats have always painted him a bit more unlucky than most, and I’m beginning to believe that, despite my beliefs in “universal balance,” Jon Niese is exactly what we’re seeing every fifth day this April.
My diagnosis: let someone else buy into the awful BABIP on this guy while you take a chance on a trendy Justin Masterson who’s at least shown he has major league quality skills at some point in his past.