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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Real Problem With Jon Niese

Jon Niese has a suspect shoulder that demands periodic trips to the 15-day DL, and a mental approach to his craft that calls for the 80-year DL. He begins a game with a plan, and was born with the talent to execute it. But he’s incapable of adjusting if anything goes wrong, whether it’s his location or which pitches are working or his defense or the umpiring or bad luck or his horoscope or the U.S. dollar/Burundian franc exchange rate or whatever else doesn’t go exactly the way he thought it would go while he was in the consequence-free cradle of the bullpen.

Everybody has a plan until they get punched, to quote Mike Tyson (no, Baseball Reference, not that one) and Niese has a glass jaw.

But that’s not the real problem with Jon Niese.

(Nor is it that I detest him, though that’s also true.)

The real problem is that Niese is no longer better than the Mets’ other options for the starting rotation. Noah Syndergaard is ready for the big leagues — which doesn’t mean that he’ll dominate, just that he has nothing left to learn in Las Vegas. And Steven Matz is very close to that same status.

Last year this didn’t matter, because Syndergaard and Matz were part of the future. Now they’re part of the present, and the only way to discover what they’ll become is by watching them challenge big-league hitters and be challenged by them.

Niese’s days of becoming something, on the other hand, are over. He arrived in the big leagues seven years ago, and is one of four Mets with tenures that reach back to Shea Stadium. (Your others: David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Bobby Parnell.) We know Niese’s strengths, and oh boy do we know his weaknesses. He is what he is — a No. 4 starter who might have been more if not for injuries and his own limitations. That’s not news. What is news is that now he’s in a rotation with a bunch of potential No. 1s and No. 2s, and very soon there won’t be enough spots for everybody.

So trade Niese, right? Great idea, but who’d take him? Other teams see the injury history, the suspect mechanics and the dreadful body language on the mound. They hear the muttered postgame alibis and Terry Collins‘ barely suppressed frustration. (His comments tonight about Niese not using all his pitches were telling — as was Collins’ bafflement about what happened in Chicago.)

At the end of 2012 the prospect of having Niese under contract through 2016 (with two more years of club options) seemed like a bargain, but the Mets needed him then. Now that he’s in the way and the Mets don’t need him, the prospect of two more years of Niese is a gamble. The Mets are left hoping for a sucker at the table. Good luck with that.

* * *

Since we must, let’s talk about the game inflicted on us tonight. I seized a chance to catch up with an old friend and so saw the first two-thirds in snatches on a bar TV. Wait, Lagares didn’t catch that? Why is no one covering first? How many runs is that in this inning? What are the Nats doing? They’re playing them, really? Who the hell do I root for, plague?

When I got home I asked Emily if Niese had been unlucky or terrible. Her reply was that he’d been a little unlucky and then a lot terrible, which is too often the only Jon Niese scouting report you need. Beyond that, well, Murph had a quintessential Murph game, hitting a home run into the outermost precincts of Utleyville that delighted him and us, and then unaccountably abandoning his post on a bunt play that second basemen need to execute in their sleep. (Actually, narcolepsy would be a plausible explanation for some of Murph’s Murphiest moments.)

Oh, and Darrell Ceciliani — Met No. 996 if you’re scoring at home, which I hope the Mets are — got his first big-league hit. Soon after that, he got his first experience of ending a game by striking out. That kind of night. Really, the best thing about this one was that it ended.

16 comments to The Real Problem With Jon Niese

  • Dave

    We often hear and repeat the proven adage, “you can never have too much pitching,” and that’s because it’s true. But equally true is that you can have too many pitchers. A few weeks ago I offered that Syndergaard and Matz would be more exciting to watch than Niese and Gee. Now there’s good reason to suspect thay they also give the Mets a better chance of winning. This window isn’t going to stay open indefinitely, it’s time. If the best they can get for either of them is a utility player or middle reliever or mid-level maybe prospect, so be it. We may have another 1 and 2 to make room for…the proven 4 and 5 go.

  • Rob E

    While I am easing off the Niese bandwagon, you still can’t be too aggressive. Niese’s failures get amplified, but he is essentially the #5 now, and after two bad starts his ERA is at 3.72. That’s pretty good for the back of your rotation. Gee also is a useful pitcher, if not a top-of-the-rotation sort. When the time comes, you got to get SOMETHING back for these guys.

    The bigger thing to consider is this: all the Met fans who are smelling playoff blood in the water….do you really want to go the rest of the season with TWO rookie starters, a second year guy, and a guy coming back from TJ who is on pitch and innings limits (which leaves a 42-year-old as your stabilizer)? We got spoiled by deGrom’s immediate success, but the more realistic development curve to look at is Zack Wheeler’s (that’s not a knock on any of these guys). There are 120 games left here….you can’t just get jettison usable guys because they’re not as good as your top guys. While I do believe Syndergaard and Matz are legitimate, you can’t expect “2014 deGroms” right out of the gate. Not to mention that deGrom ALSO has had rough starts this season.

    • Dave

      Rob – I hear you about young pitching and its uncertainty, but the Mets’ glory days (which essentially boils down to 2 years out of 53+) centered around young pitching. And maybe the blood isn’t in the water this year (it’s very likely that when all is said and done in 2015, this team peaked in April), by 2016 I want the kids to have as much experience as possible. And the bottom line is that you only have room for 5 starters. These guys can’t or don’t want to transition to the bullpen easily (pitchers are unbelievably inflexible…this “I need to know my role” crap), so with Gee coming off the DL and Matz knocking on the door, they’re up to 7 starters, or even 8 if you count Montero. Something’s got to give at some point.

      • Rob D.

        yes, but everybody knows that, so in a sense, the Mets are not dealing from strength.

      • Rob E

        They may have peaked in April, but I think this is a good team with a very good chance at playing meaningful games in Sept. They’re a quarter of the way through, and they have hung tough while playing depleted. I don’t see this team collapsing.

        That being said, we haven’t seen the effects of a full season on those young arms. They’ve given Harvey a long leash out of necessity so far, but that’s not likely to continue. They’re not going to push deGrom either, Colon is 42, and you have to allow growing pains for Thor. So they’re going to have to get creative to get these guys through healthy without compromising a potential pennant race in August & September. The “overabundance” is not going to be as much at game 80 as it appears at game 40. It’s a good problem to have. But we shouldn’t get jumpy in our frustration, because there’s going to be a place on this team for Gee & Niese. Next year is another story, but the Mets still have to walk a fine line getting these guys through 2015.

  • dgw

    The whole who to root for thing really isn’t hard. The Mets don’t have a realistic chance of keeping up with the Nationals, so rooting for the Yankees to lose easily wins out here.

  • open the gates

    I was thinking, when Gee comes back, he knocks Niese into the bullpen. Or maybe Matz comes up and knocks them both into the bullpen. Truth is, the Mets have a slew of short relievers, but not many long guys who can eat up several innings of overtime, or come in when the starter gets clobbered in the second inning. It’s not a glamorous job, but it serves a purpose, and is mostly filled by former starters. I think that will be Niese and Gee’s next stop, and it may be the best way to market them as well.

  • BlondiesJake

    As usual, FAFIF is spot on. Niese’s time in the rotation should be done, as should Gee once Matz is promoted and everybody is healthy.

    Rob E, stop looking at Niese’s ERA and look at his WHIP, which is the best indicator of the likely success of a pitcher. When you’re allowing 1.5 baserunners per inning, you’re going to give up runs. He was lucky at the start of the year and is now regressing to the expected mean.

    open the gates, I voiced the same thing recently…let Niese pitch long relief.

    Would be nice to bounce right back today. Colon was 2-0 last year vs Cards with 1.20 ERA, allowing just 8 hits in 15 innings with 9 strikeouts and nary a walk.

  • 9th string catcher

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see another attempt at the 6 man rotation. Let’s face it, the Mets lead the league in injuries, and it’s only a matter of time before someone has a dead arm or gets hit by a line drive or gets struck by a bolt of lightning. Reality check – Snydergaard has had exactly 1 good start – we have no idea if he’s ready for prime time, but we have to find out. No reason to cast aside anyone just yet. Sandy can’t sign a decent free agent to save his life, but he’s played the starter thing perfectly. I actually trust his judgement on this one.

  • mikeL

    in terms of the whole veterans v. young guys debate regarding a possible playoff run, i like gee’s presence, but what veteran presence does neise bring beyond mopey body language and that glass jaw? (spot on jason, as always)
    a cautionary ‘don’t do this’ for the youngsters?
    remember it was (gulp) ollie perez and jon maine who saved the day when pedro, and then el duque went down in 06.
    i would gladly take my chances with matz/syndergaard and get them in the thick of things sooner than later.
    maybe a neise/murphy package could bring back a reliever or two and less games like last night (emphasis on the latter)

  • Will in Central NJ

    A friend frequently reminds me of a quote, attributed to Branch Rickey: “It’s better to trade a player too soon than too late.” Jon Niese comes to mind in this regard. Daniel Murphy, too. (Where have you gone, Sandy Alderson? Mets nation turns its lonely eyes to you.)

    Speaking of Murph, I wore his replica jersey to the Cardinals-Mets game Monday night. I split after 11 innings, missing the end of the game. In the men’s room line with other perturbed NYM fans in Penn Station (they were mostly clad in NYR sweaters, as the Lightning whipped the NYR moments earlier), I found myself having to defend Murph to other NYM fans. I have a love-hate relationship with Murph’s play, but still…

    Really, Murphy is a reincarnation of Marv Throneberry. Can anyone NOT picture him hitting a triple, and then getting called out for missing first AND second base?

    • SJGMoney

      It’s way too late to trade Murphy. We’re not yet at that point with Niese but getting close. Please go and soak your head you mental midget Niese.

  • Lenny65

    I feel exactly the same way regarding Niese. He was good enough for a while but now we have better options. Ideally I’d love to see them move him for a good glove utility infielder or maybe a decent fourth OF, as they’re both things we could actually use. I can’t believe there’s not a single team out there that could use Niese, as he’s not an Oliver Perez-like train wreck or anything.

  • mikeL


    et tu bartolo?!?

  • Dick Mitchell

    @dgw…r.e. “The Mets don’t have a realistic chance of keeping up with the Nationals, so rooting for the Yankees to lose easily wins out here.”

    Think, Wild Card, and still (always) encourage the Yankees to lose.

  • Jim McConville

    What kind of Mets fan detests a person because he isn’t CY worthy. That is shallow.