Thursday, August 7, 2014

In Defense of Jonathon Niese

Don't worry, Jon.  I've got your back.  (Getty Images)

For the first time since becoming a Met in 2008, Jonathon Niese has lost four consecutive starts, with all four defeats coming after his brief stint on the disabled list.  The losing streak has caused some Mets fans on Twitter and in the blogosphere to question whether the best days for the lefty are behind him.

But before you proclaim yourself ready to say uncle about Niese, take a look at a few facts.

Niese's four-game losing streak has come against the Mariners, Brewers, Giants and Nationals.  As of this writing, Seattle is only one game out of the second wild card spot in the American League.  Meanwhile, San Francisco holds the top wild card spot in the NL, while Milwaukee and Washington sit atop their respective divisions.  In other words, Niese lost to four good teams!

In addition to facing playoff contender after playoff contender during his skein, Niese has received no run support from his teammates whatsoever.  The Mets have scored two, two, one and one run in Niese's last four starts.  In fact, this poor support has victimized Niese all season, as the Mets have lost 11 of Niese's 21 starts, scoring two runs or fewer in ten of the 11 losses.  With that kind of support, it's a wonder Niese has WON as many games as he has.

Other than a three-start tryout in 2008, Niese has pitched his entire career for Mets teams that finished with sub-.500 records.  Yet it took him until his seventh season to lose four straight decisions in the same season.  Consider this.

In 1967, Mets rookie Tom Seaver lost four consecutive decisions in a five-start span.  Three years later, he was credited with a loss in four straight starts (August 15-28, 1970).

A quarter century after Seaver's rookie campaign, Dwight Gooden suffered the first four-game losing streak of his career, doing so in a five-start stretch from July 9 to August 19, 1992.  (Gooden was placed on the 15-day disabled list in the middle of that rough patch.)  A year later, Doc had two separate stretches in which he lost four consecutive starts, doing so from June 12 to July 1 and August 7-23.

In 2010, R.A. Dickey won his first six decisions as a Met.  He followed that up by losing four straight decisions in a period of five starts (June 28 to July 20).  Although Dickey never lost four straight starts, he did lose five consecutive decisions during a six-start stretch in 2011.

What do the above three pitchers have in common besides several losing streaks of four games or more?  All three won Cy Young Awards as members of the New York Mets.  Even Jerry Koosman, who never won a Cy Young Award, but still leads all Mets southpaws in career victories, had some tough times on the mound.  From August 2 to September 5, 1977, Koosman started eight games for the Mets.  Incredibly, he was pinned with a loss in all of them.

Like Koosman, Niese is a left-handed pitcher who has had his shares of ups and downs.  Koosman finished his 12-year Mets career just three games above .500 (140 wins, 137 losses), while Niese currently has a 48-48 won-loss record.  But as bad as Niese's current four-game stretch is, it's only halfway to the worst streak suffered by Koosman.  It's also not the first time a Met has lost four straight starts, as club legends Seaver and Gooden both accomplished the feat.

Tom Seaver lost four straight in 1967.  The Mets lost 101 games that year.  Dwight Gooden had three separate four-game losing streaks in 1992 and 1993.  Those are the teams most known for being "the worst team money could buy".  R.A. Dickey had losing streaks of four and five games in his short Mets career.  He never pitched for a winning Mets team.  And of course, Koosman's unfortunate streak in 1977 came in the first year of the Grant's Tomb era.

Someday, the Mets will finish a season above .500 again.  When that day comes, Jonathon Niese will surely have a better chance to win a greater percentage of his ballgames.  It's amazing that it took until his seventh season for him to put together a four-game losing streak, considering the teams he's played for.

So for all those people who are becoming impatient with Jonathon Niese, just remember this.  Some of the best pitchers to ever put on a Mets uniform suffered misfortunes just as much as Niese did.  Don't give up hope on the Mets' 27-year-old lefty yet.  He still has plenty of time to put up some fantastic numbers, just as long as his teammates remember to put up a few numbers of their own on the scoreboard.

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