By: Stache Staff

Niese proposed contract extension due to analytic thinking


Well, this is refreshing compared to the Minaya era. It turns out some actual thought went into the negotiations with Jon Niese that appear to be headed to the lefty starter getting a five-year contract extension. Reports say that the proposed deal is somewhere around the $28 million range and may on top of that include options for 2017 and 2018. Based on ERA alone, this doesn’t sound like such a good idea. Niese posted a 4.20 ERA in 2010 and a 4.40 last season.

However, if you dig a little deeper, it seems almost certain that Niese will allow less runs in the future. Last season, he put up an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of greater than 3:1 that led to a 3.36 FIP (fielding independent pitching). Mark Simon of ESPN New York notes that it was actually sort of amazing that Niese allowed so many runs last season.

Last season, there were 25 major league pitchers who pitched at least 150 innings, struck out at least seven hitters per nine innings, walked fewer than three per nine, and allowed fewer than one home run per nine innings. Those are your kings of FIP.

If you went through that list, you’d see a lot of pitchers who would be on your no-doubter ace list. That’s the guys like Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.

The second-tier guys are very good pitchers too — the likes of Jaime Garcia, Matt Garza, and Shaun Marcum.

Of those 25, the pitcher who posted the second-worst ERA was Michael Pineda’s 3.74.

The worst belonged to Niese. His was the distant outlier of the group, with a 4.40 ERA.

The basic idea behind FIP is that a pitcher has very little control over where balls land in the field of play. He can control how often balls are hit in the air and on the ground, but very little beyond that. The three main things a pitcher has a lot of control over are strikeouts, walks and home runs. Any ball hit into play that doesn’t go over the wall is subject to a lot of luck and randomness. That’s why Michael Kay says “you can’t predict baseball.”

We can take a pitcher and look at his past performance and be able to guess pretty accurately how many strikeouts, walks and home runs he will yield in a given year. We can’t do that with ERA. When a pitcher does well from a FIP standpoint but doesn’t have a good-looking ERA, it’s a good bet that his ERA will drop the next season. It’s not a sure thing, but it’s a pretty good bet. That’s why the Mets front office is so eager to negotiate an extension with Niese after he allowed so many runs in 2011.

Should Niese be able to replicate the strikeout, walk and home run numbers that he had in 2011, the proposed extension should turn out to be a pretty good deal for the Mets going forward.

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