A few days ago Joe Girardi announced that the Yankees were looking at Jon Niese exclusively as a reliever. So the first question that should immediately populate people’s minds is what are his stats like as a reliever? Well, the short answer is pretty awful, but let’s delve deeper into Jon Niese, the reliever.
Minimal Relief Experience
Niese has a whopping 18.1 IP under his belt as a reliever. That’s an incredibly small sample size for a guy who has pitched another 1,171 innings as a starter. His relief appearances include one game in 2011, four games in 2015, and nine games in his horrendous (and injury-riddled) 2016 season. In total his ERA was 5.89 across those 14 games – a pretty awful line.
A deeper look at some of his other numbers includes a gargantuan 1.745 WHIP, a measly 5.9 K/9, and a .329 BA against him. Now remember this is a ridiculously small sample size but the numbers available are still pretty poor. Lucky for us, the Yankees and probably Niese, there is another almost 1,200 innings we can extrapolate data from.
Looking at Career Numbers
Over the course of his still young career (he’s still only 30), Niese has been fairly decent. His 4.07 career ERA is fair. He’s 69-68 with a couple of complete games and shutouts. His career 6.9 K/9 is still pretty low but Niese is known more as a groundball pitcher rather than strikeout machine. That’s fine for Yankee Stadium and could translate alright into relief. His career groundball pct. at 50.1% is great. In fact, in 2015 he was ranked seventh in all of baseball with a 56.55 GB%. That could play really well with coming into games with runners on base.
So let’s extrapolate what some of his stats could look like as a reliever. Well throughout his career Niese has actually pitched slightly better with men on base, allowing a .272 batting average against compared to a career .275. His batting average against with two outs and runners in scoring position is a really solid .222. His tOPS+, which looks at his On-Base + Slugging Percentage for a split relative to his total OPS, for two outs and runners in scoring position is 66 (numbers below 100 mean pitcher did better than usual for this split, numbers above 100 means he did worse).
Long story short is that it looks like he has some decent stats for potential relief situations like coming into a game with runners on base.
What about Starting?
It’s surprising to hear Girardi state the Yankees were only looking at Niese as a reliever. Considering the Yankees have a bunch of unknowns fighting for the fourth and fifth starting spots, it makes sense for them to throw Niese into the mix. I appreciate giving the young arms as many opportunities as possible, but it strikes me as odd to eliminate the option of looking at Niese as a starter. He could be serviceable as he moves further away from his knee injury.
Niese could work as a swingman if he makes the team, throwing multiple cleanup innings or as lefty specialist when needed. It will be interesting to watch him progress alongside Adam Warren, who I would consider to be his main swingman competition. If Warren cracks the rotation, we see Niese as the swingman.