Last night, Jonathon Niese pitched well against the Braves, allowing one run in six innings of work. Alas, the Mets could not give him any run support and they fell to Atlanta, 3-0. It was Niese's third consecutive loss after an impressive 10-6 start.
Niese's strong performance was actually an aberration from what he has normally done over his career in August and September. Until this year, Niese had always tired after the calendar moved from July to August. However, even with Niese experiencing the best August and early September of his career, he still isn't getting the victories to show for it.
Let's look at Niese's career numbers over his entire major league career in the months of April through July, followed by how he's fared after July 31 to see what the hubbub is all about:
- April-July: 25-18, 3.81 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .262 BAA, .319 OBP, .395 SLG
- Aug.-Sept.: 7-14, 4.87 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, .293 BAA, .350 OBP, .463 SLG
Although Niese's first four months have always been very good, the sharp downturn he takes in the season's final two months is what has kept Niese from being nothing more than a .500 pitcher, as his 32-32 career record shows.
This year is the first time that Niese has actually pitched well after July 31. In seven starts since the beginning of August, Niese has a 2.47 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Opponents have batted .236 against him, while reaching base at a .277 clip and slugging .376. However, despite not sputtering to the finish as he has in previous years, the Mets have not given Niese many runs to work with, as evidenced by his 3-4 record since July 31.
Jonathon Niese has shown improvement from year to year. His 3.47 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 2012 are far below his previous career-bests. (Niese has never had an ERA under 4.20 or a WHIP under 1.40 over a full season.) He is also on pace to set career-highs in innings pitched, strikeouts and strikeout-to-walk ratio. But by not winning more than 11 games in any season, he has not yet turned the page from middle-of-the-rotation starter to top-notch pitcher.
Niese has pitched four-plus seasons with the Mets and is locked up for four-plus more. But he's still searching for that breakout season where he establishes himself has a front-line starter. To do that, he'll have to be effective for an entire season, not just for the first four months.
Jonathon Niese looks like he's starting to turn the page this year. We'll have to wait and see if he can get to the next chapter and beyond in 2013.