On Monday, the Mets announced that Jon Niese was being promoted from double-A Binghamton to triple-A New Orleans. Niese is scheduled to make his first triple-A start on Wednesday, bumping back Ruddy Lugo. As for his reaction to the news, Niese said he was both “surprised and excited” to be heading for triple-A.
The 6’4”, 215 lb southpaw will leave the B-Mets with a 6-7 record and a 3.04 ERA. In 124.1 IP, he allowed 118 H, 44 BB and struck out 112 while doing a fine job keeping the ball on the ground, yielding just five homers to go along with a ground out/air out ratio of 1.5. His key ratios were strong with a K/BB ratio of 2.55 and 8.11 strikeouts per nine innings in the Eastern League.
Niese points to a number of factors that have helped him this year. First he focused on the most basic, “I just took it one pitch at a time; just executing pitches.” He also credits spring training for setting up his successful year, “I learned a lot this year at big league camp. It taught me a lot about consistency and carrying it over here with [B-Mets Pitching Coach] Ricky [Bones]. I feel like he’s helped me out a lot.”
His manager Mako Oliveras noticed the improvement in his young hurler and pointed to similar sources, “he has worked big time and you gotta give a lot of credit to Ricky Bones” Oliveras said Monday night.
Bones and Niese first met in Niese’s first spring training as a professional in 2006 and formed an immediate bond. Niese claims that “instantly, I knew he was a great coach…as a coach, I fell in love with him.” Niese was assigned to Hagerstown to start that year, but was promoted to St. Lucie for his final two starts where he teamed up with Bones again. Niese recalls the finish to that season by saying, “it was great to work with him.” Jump forward two years, and Niese is quick to credit his new and old coach Bones. “This is my best year so far. I think a lot of that has to do with Ricky,” he explains. “He’s always on me about getting ahead of guys and pitching to contact.”
In addition to pitching philosophy, Bones also taught Niese a new pitch in 2008, a cutter. Niese is thrilled with the addition to his repertoire, “he just changed my grip on the ball and told me a couple of things and it became a great pitch.” Tactically, it opens up his options because he’s now able to “come in on righties and get outs.”
Statistical evidence of the cutter’s impact is slight but perhaps using full-season data is not fair since Niese has integrated the pitch over the course of the year. In 2007, lefties hit .258/.324/.409/.732 (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS) against him as compared with righties who hit .291/.333/.394/.727. Lefties’ OPS was five points better than that of righties. In 2008, Niese displays much more typical left/right splits. Righties have hit him harder .261/.324/.373/.698 than lefties .217/.292/.304/.597 for a .101 point difference in OPS in 2008. Versus his 2007 self, in 2008 Niese has performed a little better against righties (-.029 OPS points) but a lot better against lefties (-.135). With the cutter now a major weapon for Niese against righties, pay close attention to his left/right splits at triple-A.
Of course, Bones is not the only person Niese credits with his development, praising, “Nick Abel, all the coaches, and all of the front office staff with the Mets. They’re behind me all the way and helped me out.” Abel he notes is “the one who got me on good eating habits.” Niese is proud of the fact that he’s dropped weight in the last two years, “I’ve changed a lot since Hagerstown,” which he credits with helping his pitching.
Niese will have a a chance to prove how much he’s learned from Bones and internalized his coach’s messages now that he will no longer have his mentor watching from the dugout or standing beside him in the bullpen. Instead, the Mets and their fans will be watching closely.