Pittsburgh Pirates Have Great Fit with Jon Niese


On Wednesday, it was announced the Pittsburgh Pirates had made a trade to acquire Jon Niese from the New York Mets in exchange for Neil Walker. Understandably, Pirates fans were initially skeptical about the trade that will send their beloved Neil Walker to the defending National League champs but the trade actually makes a ton of sense for both sides.

After the Mets missed out on Ben Z0brist, they made it clear Neil Walker would be their next target at second base. In the past few days, it has been rumored that the Pirates would try to move Walker in the last year of his contract at the same time they’ve been shopping for starting pitchers at the Winter Meetings; thus, the perfect trade was born.

First, let’s look at the team control. Walker is heading into the last year of his contract while Niese is under contract for 2016 with club options for 2017 and 2018. It’s possible Niese can be with the Pirates for three full seasons while there’s no guarantee Walker would’ve stayed in 2017. By the end of his contract, Niese will be 33 and either ready for a pay-cut or to retire while the Pirates expect second base prospect Alen Hanson to be ready as early as 2016.

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Now I know when I discussed the Pirates going after Scott Kazmir, I mentioned that a soft-tossing lefty wouldn’t fare well in this division, but the main reason was the price of that lefty. Niese will make $9 million in 2016, followed by $10 million in 2017 and $11 million in 2018 if his options are picked up. Compared to the $13-15 million per year that Kazmir will likely earn, Niese is a steal who will probably see improvement under Ray Searage.

The reason I think Niese will do well in Pittsburgh is because of his ability to keep the ball on the ground. His above average 2-seamer and cutter allow him to work low and inside on both sides of the plate, causing batters to drive the ball straight into the dirt. Over the course of his career, Niese forces ground balls an even 50 percent of the time and in 2015, saw that rate rise to nearly 55 percent.

And the stats support his effectiveness as a ground ball pitcher; opposing batters have just a .251 on-base percentage when hitting the ball on the ground. When you rely on offspeed stuff as much as Niese does, hanging a few pitches is inevitable and he will give up home runs (usually in packs – he’s streaky) but more often than not he catches batters off guard. His breaking pitches usually leave hitters off-balance and force them to miss his meatballs, evidenced by a .141 batting average when putting the ball in play via the air.

Like Kazmir, Niese doesn’t have strikeout stuff – not that he ever had the stuff Kazmir had – but Niese is an efficient pitcher who can go deep into games; Niese threw over 95 pitches in 13 starts this year and had 15 games allowing one run or less.

He also showed versatility during the 2015 season when the Mets, because of a surplus of young pitchers, asked Niese to come out of the bullpen down the stretch and into the playoffs. He came in once during the NLDS and got a strikeout and once during the NLCS, where he struck out Anthony Rizzo to kill the last chance the Cubs ever had at winning the series. Aside from one bad outing in Game 4 of the World Series, he was stellar against the Royals when counted on as well.

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For less than it would’ve cost to sign Kazmir, the Pirates got themselves a guy who consistently puts the team first. He proved that he shows up when the bright lights are on, in whatever role is asked of him. It’ll be hard to say goodbye to Neil Walker but the team couldn’t have found a better fit. Niese will be good for about 10 wins and a sub-4 ERA which will be just fine for the likely 4th starter and his versatility could help the Pirates greatly come October.