Jon Niese Needs Removed From The Pirate Rotation

May 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle (right) takes the ball from starting pitcher Jonathon Niese (left) during the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. The Reds won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
May 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle (right) takes the ball from starting pitcher Jonathon Niese (left) during the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. The Reds won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports /

Left-handed starting pitcher Jon Niese is having by far the worst season of his career. For this reason, Niese needs removed from the Pirates’ starting rotation.

When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded for Jon Niese in December a lot of Pirate fans were upset. Some fans were upset because hometown favorite Neil Walker was traded for Niese, some were upset because they believed Jon Niese is not very good, and for others it was a combination of the two. I was not one of these fans, though.

The reason I was not upset was due to the production Niese had given the New York Mets the previous four seasons. From 2012 through 2015 Jon Niese pitched 697 2/3 innings in 113 starts. In those 697 2/3 innings pitched Niese posted a 3.65 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 3.80 xFIP, and a 1.31 WHIP. Niese also averaged just 2.54 BB/9, 0.89 HR/9, and had a strong 52.4 percent ground ball rate.

When you combine these numbers with Jon Niese being a left-handed pitcher, and PNC Park being a left-handed pitcher’s haven, I expected him to be a strong number three starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Not only has Niese not been a number three starter, his production has been worse than a number five.

Through his first 16 starts of the season Jon Niese is having the worst season of his Major League career. Unfortunately for the Pirates, Niese is not the only pitcher on their staff having the worst season of their career. Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, Jared Hughes, Juan Nicasio, and Tony Watson all fit this bill as well. Hence why their pitching staff is such a mess. But for this article my focus is solely on Niese. 

Through his first 16 starts as a Pittsburgh Pirate, Jon Niese has pitched 92 1/3 innings. In those 92 1/3 innings Niese has a 5.07 ERA, 5.60 FIP, 4.35 xFIP, -0.5 WAR, and a 1.53 WHIP. Other than the 2008 season when Jon Niese only pitched 14 innings, all of these numbers are career worsts. Niese is also averaging 3.22 BB/9, which is also a career high when you toss out the aforementioned 2008 season.

Another benefit to acquiring Niese this past offseason was his contract. Jon Niese has a pair of team options, one for 2017 and one for 2018. So, if Niese would have pitched the way he had the past four seasons the Pirates would have had a solid middle of the rotation arm under team control for two more years. At this point though, I think it is safe to say his option for next year will not be picked up.

If Jon Niese were to be removed from the Pirate rotation, the question then becomes who replaces him? Well, the Pirates have a few options here. Just as they also have a few options when it comes to what to do with Niese.

First off, there is Gerrit Cole. Cole has been on the disabled list for a little over three weeks now, but he should return shortly after the All-Star Break. When Cole returns, the Pirates could always have him take Niese’s spot in the rotation. However, by taking this route Jon Niese would have to make at least two more starts for the Pirates.

The other option is to promote highly touted right-handed pitcher Tyler Glasnow form Triple-A Indianapolis. Everyone knows Glasnow’s story by now. He has absolutely electric stuff, he gives up almost no hits, he strikes out a ton of batters, but he also walks too many batters. Even though I am against bringing up players before they are Major League ready, at this point Glasnow is a better option than Niese. Furthermore, this could end Jon Niese’s days in the Pirate rotation immediately.

In terms of what to do with Niese, my guess is the Pirates would not take the route I would. Personally, I would just designate him for assignment. Or at the very least put him on the phantom disabled list. However, I am assuming the Pirates would put him in the bullpen. This is a move I would not like as, in my opinion, the Pirate bullpen is really starting to settle in to being a strength once more.

Neftali Feliz, A.J. Schugel, and Mark Melancon have pitched great all season, Juan Nicasio has thrown nothing but zeroes since being moved to the bullpen, Arquimedes Caminero has looked like his 2015 self since coming off the disabled list, and Tony Watson has returned to dominant Tony Watson after early season struggles. The only reliever in the Pirate bullpen that is really struggling right now is Jared Hughes, but Jon Niese would be a long-man in the bullpen not a situational pitcher like Hughes is.

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Despite what many Pittsburgh Pirate fans think, the Bucs are still very alive in the National League Wild Card race. But, to earn their fourth consecutive postseason birth the Pirates’ starting pitching has to improve. One way to improve the rotation is to remove Jon Niese from it.

As I said above, there are a few different ways the Pirates can go about this. They can do it now by promoting Tyler Glasnow from Triple-A and putting him in the rotation over Niese. Or, they can replace Jon Niese in the rotation with Gerrit Cole when Cole returns from the disabled list. The Pirates can put Niese in the bullpen, put him on the ‘disabled list,’ designate him for assignment, or release him. I do not care, but he should not make another start for the Pirates this season.