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It took former top 100 prospect Jon Niese two years to adjust to the Big Leagues. In his first two seasons, the Mets lefty went 20-21 with a 4.30 ERA, mostly attributed to his 1.44 WHIP. Then, in 2012, things finally started to click as Niese posted a career-best 13 wins, 3.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings to just 2.3 walks per nine innings. After years of waiting, the Mets finally had their ace.
Or so it seemed. Last year, injuries limited Opening Day starter Niese to just 24 starts and his WHIP ballooned back up to 1.44. His ERA was still a solid 3.71 but his walk rate jumped to 3.0 per nine while his strikeout rate dropped to 6.6 per nine.
Injuries threatened Niese’s 2014 season early as he went down with an elbow injury in spring training but returned fairly quickly and does not look like he’s suffering any discomfort.
Through six starts this season, Niese is 2-2 with a 1.82 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 30 strikeouts to just nine walks over 39 innings. Niese has now allowed one or no runs in four straight games and has yet to surrender more than three runs or three hits.
Now consider this. In 2013, following his strong year, Niese’s ADP was 143 in ESPN leagues. This year, Niese went undrafted in most leagues and even after six strong starts is only owned in 29 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Healthy, Niese is the pitcher he was in 2012. Is that a 1.80 ERA pitcher? Certainly not, and that ERA will level back out to the low-to-mid-3s, but he is certainly a better pitcher than his injury-plagued 2013 numbers and early career numbers may suggest.
In full-season leagues, Niese can certainly provide fantasy owners 13 or so wins, a 3.30-3.40 ERA, and 1.15 WHIP with a solid 7-7.3 strikeout per nine rate and not a ton of walks or home runs. Playing in CitiField in half of his starts, along with other pitcher-friendly stadiums in the NL East, is definitely going to help. The only concern with Niese is his health. Still, while he has been injured seemingly every season, injuries have seldom caused him to miss a lot of time.
I’m especially high on Niese on daily fantasy sites, though his price has risen quite a bit on most sites. It’ll come back down to earth soon and I’ll be rolling out Niese in more than a few daily lineups depending on the matchup. He has already held division rivals Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, and Philadelphia Phillies to one or no runs this year and has made a habit of carving up the Phils and Washington Nationals over his Mets career.
You may want to avoid him against lineups that feast on lefties but Niese is a legit fantasy producer that, although due for a natural amount of regression back to the 3.00s, is certainly worthy of a waiver pickup.
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