Game 99, Mets at Mariners
Roenis Elias vs. Jon Niese, 7:10pm
The M’s take a break from intra-divisional contests (and their importance for the wild card chase) to host the Mets, who are still (let me check…) mediocre. I’ll admit I don’t think about the Mets often, but I just sort of assume they’re posting a .450 winning percentage or thereabouts. They’ve won between 70 and 79 games in each of the past five seasons, and that sounds about right for 2014 too. I know the M’s haven’t exactly been the toast of baseball since 2009 and have frequently been worse than mediocre, so I’m not pointing and laughing at them – they’re just freakinshly consistent.
Lefthander Jon Niese gets the start today. Niese has been a guy with a solid control and some sink, so he’s been fairly consistent too. He doesn’t overpower anyone – his four-seamer’s been in the 91 range, and his cutter was generally around 89 – but he had decent command and his curveball gets whiffs to lefties and righties. After some HR problems in his first few years in the rotation, he put up a very good season in 2012 thanks perhaps to increased command. And he did it despite the fact that the Mets brought their outfield in for the 2012 season, and lopped eight feet off the height of the wall. He’s never managed 200 innings, however, and he missed time due to injury in 2013.
He’s just coming off the DL to make this start, in fact. Looking at his peripherals, you see warning signs everywhere. First, his velocity’s down fairly dramatically. After averaging 91+ on his four-seam fastball every year since 2010, he’s down to 89.5 this season. After averaging 30-31% o-swing rate (getting batters to swing at balls) from 2011-12, he’s at just 26% this year. As you’d expect from that, his contact rate is up over three percentage points this season. His GB% is the lowest it’s been since 2010, and his K% the lowest it’s been since 2009. Thus, it’s not exactly a shock to look at his ERA and FIP and find…wait, what? Niese’s ERA is below 3, and his FIP’s staying steady in the mid-3 range, where it dropped to in 2012-13. If you guessed BABIP, yes, that’s clearly part of the explanation. A career .310 BABIP hurler, Niese and his defenders are allowing batters to post only a .283 mark this year. His HR rate’s stayed low, too, and he’s stranded more runners than he has in the past.
Thanks to that curve ball and a solid change-up, Niese’s platoon splits are fairly ordinary. He’s a bit better against lefties, as you’d imagine, but he’s been fairly tough on righties as well. They’re smaller, over his career, than his home/road splits, actually. That sounds promising and all, but essentially all pitchers benefit from Safeco.
The Mets have been a disappointment offensively, but they’ve posted solid defensive numbers; that’s clearly a factor in Niese’s low BABIP.
1: Bloomquist, SS
2: Jones, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Romero, RF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Hart, DH
8: Ackley, LF
9: Zunino, C