We neglected to mention Niese in our list of Mets MVPs for June and perhaps that was a mistake, as he was 3-1 with a 1.89 ERA in five starts.
Niese’s strikeout-to-walk ratio for the month was resemblant of R.A. Dickey, 34-to-5.
The key to that was fastball command. Niese threw his fastball for strikes 72 percent of the time last month, up from 61 percent in April and May.
Mark Simon point out things we all missed, as he is wont to do. I had no idea that Niese had pitched that well in June. I guess that’s what happens when Johan Santana throws a no-hitter and R.A. Dickey does what R.A. Dickey does in the same month.
Anyway. Niese is on pace to have the best season of his career, posting a 3.55 ERA and 106 ERA+, the breakout performance the Mets were banking on when they signed Niese to an extension this spring. That is, it’s a breakout performance except that Niese has done this exact same thing in the first half of every season in his young career:
And then this happens the next three months:
Niese’s performance was far, far worse in the second half of 2010 and 2011, which is why his career ERA still sits at a less-than-impressive 4.23. (Dillon Gee’s career ERA is 4.14. Is anyone else on the Dillon Gee bandwagon yet? There’s plenty of room ya’ll. I made brownies. Guys? Guys? No wait, let me show you this handmade pamphlet on xFIP.) Note Niese has allowed 307 hits in 300.1 first-half innings, and then 193 hits in 159 second-half innings. His strikeout-to-walk rate has dropped a bit in the second-halves, but that’s not as alarming as the huge rise in hits. Also note the 12 unearned runs in 2010, when Niese pitched even worse than his ERA shows.
Niese’s second-half struggles could be just a fluky statistical thing — particularly if we want to account for the huge rise in hits by citing BABIP and leaving things at that — but it is something to keep an eye on this season. I’m still not totally sold on the Niese extension, but this year’s second half should prove an early test for that deal. Or something.