There Was No Doubt About It

A Pittsburgh Pirates Blog

Pirates at Cubs: Inflection Points

06.18.16 Posted by

Niese vs. Lester, 8:15 PM

For the first month or two of the season, we tried to figure out how good or bad some of our new players were. We got pretty emphatic returns on John Jaso and most of the bench hitters, as well as offensive players who weren’t new, but had the potential to perform at a new level. We got good early returns on Juan Nicasio, then terrible ones, then okay ones…and now the dust seems to have settled mostly near “terrible” with the occasional step towards “okay.”

Jon Niese has been one of the harder players to pin down: struggled tremendously out of the gate, had a good run for six starts, then got rocked against St. Louis his last time on the mound. He was, of course, not as bad as those early starts suggested, nor as good as the ones that followed. All the data we have suggest he’s been average-ish, but seems worse because he’s giving up an unusually high number of home runs. He’s still getting lots of ground balls, though, and his K and BB numbers are both a little higher than last year. So far, on net, he’s about the same guy he was when he acquired him, which is kind of a disappointment given that most of us have a Searage Adjustment built into our expectations when any new pitcher is added to the team. That hasn’t materialized here.

When you’re having trouble giving up home runs, you don’t want to face the Cubs, and you don’t want to be in Wrigley. Niese has to contend with both. It might not be pretty. Especially given his mound opponent, Jon Lester, who’d be the talk of baseball if not constantly in the shadow of whatever sinister bargain Arietta’s still under warranty for.

The Pirates don’t need to beat the Cubs to make the playoffs, and they don’t need Jon Niese to be great, either. But they can’t get destroyed by the Cubs, and Niese can’t be terrible. We’re 41% of the way through this season: the underlying metrics matter less with each passing game as the reality of the results overtakes them. Both Niese and the team at large have to start converting if they want to be in the mix again, rather than spending the last couple of weeks in September looking towards next year, like we used to.

First pitch is at 8:15 PM.

Filed under: game preview, Jonathan Niese