Jon Niese: The Joey Votto of pitchers

Elsa

There are very few ways in which Jon Niese can be considered elite, but one of them is drawing the walk.

As the 2014 season wears on, there are a few stories that are beginning to bubble outside the national spotlight among those who are more interested in the fringe of the sport.

One of those stories is the inability of the Mets pitchers to record a single hit on the season. Although pitchers are not expected to be excellent hitters, they are expected to get lucky from time to time. The 0-for-58 the Mets pitching staff has produced so far is good for a .000/.094/.000 line and -0.5 WAR, and, while amusing, it is detrimental to the team.

Now, if you are like most people you are likely thinking, "those guys are going to get a couple hits eventually and this will cease to be a story." That's a pretty reasonable point.

However, if you are like me you are instead thinking, "wow that's a pretty healthy walk rate for a bunch of pitchers." In fact, the Mets lead the National league in collective pitcher BB% by a solid margin, with the top five teams in the senior circuit looking like this:

Team Pitcher BB%
Mets 8.6%
Cardinals 4.9%
Giants 4.0%
Dodgers 3.8%
Pirates 3.0%

All of this is based on very small samples, after all, the Mets have a total of six walks from their pitchers. What makes all of this interesting is that four of those walks come from a single source: Jon Niese.

Jon Niese is a perfectly good, but fairly unremarkable pitcher. However, when it comes to his hitting, he has a patience at the plate that no other hurler can match. Among pitchers with at least 10 plate appearances (yes this is a crazy small sample but bear with me for a moment) Niese is tops in the MLB in BB% with the lowest O-Zone Swing% and Swing% in the business. The following chart shows Niese's numbers in those categories as well as what the second best pitcher in the league has produced in each one.

Player BB% O-Zone Swing% Swing%
Jon Niese 33.3 3.1% 21.1%
Next highest/lowest total by a pitcher 16.7% 6.5% 23.4%

It would be fairly foolish to bestow a title like "The Joey Votto of pitchers" upon Jon Niese based on 12 plate appearances, but, looking farther into the past, Niese still stands at the head of the pack when it comes to patient pitchers.

Looking at the same stats, which are fairly good indicators of strike zone judgement and patience, among the pitchers with at least 200 PA since 2010 (when Niese became a regular member of the Mets rotation) Niese ranks at or very near the top in each.

BB% Rank O-Zone Swing% Rank Swing% Rank
10.4% 1st 19.0% 27th 36.0% 26th

The only pitcher who swung less than Niese, Ian Kennedy, did so by 0.1% meaning that Niese almost had the clean sweep here.

When it comes to plate discipline, Niese has produced Joey Votto-like numbers. The reason for his doing so is likely slightly different from the Reds first baseman in that Votto is something of a hitting guru/Jedi Master who refuses to compromise and hit a bad pitch whereas Niese is probably just praying for a walk.

That being said, whichever way you slice it, the 27-year-old has been effective with the bat compared to his peers, producing the 3rd highest offensive WAR (1.2) in the sample mentioned above.

Niese is never going to be considered a truly outstanding player or the greatest pitcher of his generation, but he may actually be the greatest pitcher of his generation in one incredibly tiny facet of the game.

While pitcher hitting, let alone a specific section of pitcher hitting, may seem trivial, value is value and teams should be looking for value wherever they can get it. By refusing to chase bad pitches and working more walks than any pitcher in the business, Niese is subtly creating value for his team.

It's often said that the thing that makes National League pitchers the angriest is when they walk opposing pitchers. If that's the case, Jon Niese isn't making any friends.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs

Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.


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