Niese vs. Gonzo

But by many rate stats, [Jon] Niese has been just as good if not better than [Gio] Gonzalez. Gonzalez strikes out a few more batters, but Niese has a way better strikeout to walk ratio. Niese has yielded a slightly higher ground-ball rate across his career but has fallen victim to (or, depending on whom you ask, been the perpetrator of) a much higher batting average on balls in play. Both pitch their home games in parks known for suppressing home runs, but Gonzalez has allowed fewer home runs per fly ball over the past two seasons.

All that adds up to mean that though Gonzalez has pitched to a much better ERA and ERA+ over the past two seasons, Niese has had a better xFIP both years and boasts a lower career FIP.

– Ted Berg, “Just Asking”

If you listen to the Mostly Mets Podcast or follow me on the Twitter, you can probably guess where I stand on this issue. But in case you don’t: Give me Gio Gonzalez over Jon Niese in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t think twice about it.

Let me explain. I’ll point back to this Baseball Prospectus post by the excellent Colin Wyers, about Baseball Prospectus dropping Skill-Interactive ERA, a short-lived ERA predictor/explainer/complicated-thing. Comparing different ERA predictors, Wyers writes:

Looking at all pitchers with at least 100 innings, SIERA outperforms the other estimators (but not by much, as I’ll explain momentarily) as well as ERA. By about 400 innings, though, the gap between the ERA estimators (as well as the gap between them all and ERA) has essentially disappeared. As you add more and more innings, plain old ERA outperforms the estimators, with basic FIP ranking second-best.

If I understand Wyers correctly, once you get to about 300-400 innings, a pitcher’s past ERA is just as good at predicting his future ERA as any of the ERA-estimators (FIP or Fielding Independent Pitching, xFIP or expected Fielding Independent Pitching, and SIERA). If you have one season of information, go with FIP. But once you get up to around 500 innings, ERA outpaces the others.

Gonzalez, in terms of results, has been a much better pitcher than Niese. Gonzalez has passed the 500 inning mark for his career, and has a 3.93 ERA and a 106 ERA+; Niese is at 370.2 innings for his career, and has a 4.39 ERA and an 88 ERA+. It’s also worth noting that Gonzalez has also been healthy throughout his entire major and minor league career and has broken the 200 innings barrier twice. Niese has topped out at 178 innings, in 2008, and missed the end of both 2009 and 2011 with injuries.

There’s a case for Niese. He has the better FIP and xFIP, and may prove cheaper — but he also has a remarkably high batting average against on balls in play for his career, which is why his ERA is so much higher than his FIP. Of the 1,719 pitchers who have thrown at least 350 innings since the end of World War II, Jon Niese has the the 4th highest BABIP. He’s ranked number 4 out of 1,719. I’m not sure if it’s the kind of thing that can be written off as bad luck and poor defenders. While I believe Niese’s career ERA is going to come down, I don’t think it’s going to come down that far.

The way I see it, Niese wins in FIP and xFIP over his 370 innings . . . and then every other conceivable category goes to Gonzalez. And useful as FIP and xFIP are, they have their limits.  Given the chance, I’d take Gonzalez over Niese in a heart beat.


Filed under Columns, Words

14 responses to “Niese vs. Gonzo

  1. There has been some leakage out of Metsland that Niese’s work habits are a little lax. He also seems to be a tad injury prone. This probably accounts for making it known that he could be available. Gonzo is a very good hurler and a more of a potential ace or #2 than Niese (more of a #3). So why not make a deal with Mr. Moneyball? But Davis and Niese is way too steep a price. The A’s get Niese and a choice of two of these: F-Mart, Schwinden, Stinson, Carson, Lutz, or Satin. I don’t think there are many organizations out there who can give the A’s a comparable southpaw and a couple of these others might be worth a look-see. If not, what about Niese and Flores for Gonzo? Guys like F-Mart, Satin and Flores all have DH potential. The Mets also really need to open up a spot (or two) on their 40-man roster.

    • Bob

      I’m with you on your entire post. I’m reluctant to give up on F-Mart though. Call me crazy, but I want to see what he does with a healthy season just once before I give up on him, he’s just too young and talented. There has to be another name to throw in there instead.

  2. I thought this was a money deal for Oakland and more prospects for the mets. Gonzo is due money sooner.

  3. Gio reminds me waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much of a young Oliver Perez. Or even Johnathan Sanchez. Oliver Perez had very very good stats over his first 500 innings, stats that hid commonly know facts as he struggles to throw strikes. You cannot project incremental improvement on these types of players. Haven’t we learned enough not to give up the farm for hot shot lefties that can’t throw strikes? Jon Niese has had to many injuries and fatigue issues when he got throughly shelled in lost late seasons to screw up his small sample numbers to make pure stats analysis a bad idea. Gio is more then likely at his cieling, at peak trading value while Niese is still in a learning curve.

    • Patrick Flood

      Erratic lefties make me nervous, but the Ollie comp is unfair. Perez has a 97 ERA+ after his first 500 innings and had a much higher home run rate — and he had alternated good seasons with bad seasons. They’re both lefties with high walk rates, but the comp ends there. Perez was a flyball pitcher who was all over the map from the start. Gonzalez keeps the ball down and has gradually improved his control and performance.

      Though I don’t fault Mets fans for being especially wary of lefties with high walk rates.

      • Mets fans are especially wary of lefties with high walk rates, but just because one went so spectacularly awry doesn’t mean they all will. There are plenty of examples of guys who break into the league walking tons of hitters and find control as they mature. Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan are the obvious ones, though I think they both did it a bit later than is typical.

      • Patrick Flood

        Sandy Koufax is the most famous late-developing erratic lefty, to whom Ollie was famously compared.

  4. I wonder how many teams since WWII have posted a UZR lower than -65. I don’t think he’s going to turn into Steve Carlton or Randy Johnson but it might be a bit too soon to take Niese’s bloated ERA as more than just a ton of bad luck. The Mets defense was ghastly this year, it does no justice to generate grounders when no one can field them.

    • Patrick Flood

      You get one or two -60 run defensive teams every season by UZR or Total Zone. The Mets were a terrible fielding team last season, but they were slightly-above-average the season before, and Niese has similar struggles both seasons. I don’t think the defense is the only explanation.

      But it’s certainly an explanation, considering that the lefty ground ball pitcher Niese has David Wright occupying third base. I think Niese will get better, but I think he’s always going to underperform his FIP.

      • Niese’s FIP and peripherals weren’t nearly as good in 2010 in 2011. He showed a lot of improvement between the two seasons yet the defense took a massive step backwards, going from around a 6 UZR to -65 or so.

        You could see the same trend with Paul Maholm of the Pirates, whose ERA was a run higher than his FIP on the dreadful 2010 Bucs, yet he outperformed his ERA on the more defensively sound 2011 team.

      • Patrick Flood

        The Maholm point is a good one, but I don’t buy it with Niese because I think the Mets’ UZR drop is different.

        The 2011 Mets had a defensive efficiency of .701, the 2010 Mets had a DE of .704. So in terms of the stuff that should affect a pitcher’s BABIP, they were a tick worse — but not much, just .003 points worse. They were pretty much just as good at getting to baseballs in play and turning them into outs. The Mets huge UZR drop is because they didn’t keep runners from moving around the bases: The catchers couldn’t throw, the outfielders couldn’t throw, and the infielders couldn’t turn double plays. But it’s not the sort of thing that should show up in a pitcher’s BABIP.

        So the question is, the way I see it, how did those three other, non-BABIP things affect Niese’s ERA? And I think the answer is, “some but not that much.” Niese can hold runners on his own — he allowed just seven steals all season — leaving just the outfield arm and the double plays. I think those two manifested in his poor strand rate, 67% this season. But even if you just call that bad luck and bump it up to 70%, his ERA jumps to 4.18, still well below league average.

        I think Niese improved in 2011 and is going to continue get better, but I’d be shocked if he outperformed his FIP in 2012 or anytime soon.

  5. Hey Patty boy,
    been a while, but Goi != Mets starting pitcher. any chance phils trade for wright?

    gosh i hope not.

    Mets have a real shot at last place in NL Least this year. yawn.

    can’t wait till spring training…

    • Patrick Flood

      BOBO! We’ve missed you. I’ve got the NL East as this right now:


      Phillies win 90 something, Braves and Nats win 80 something, Mets and Marlins win 70 something games.

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