With the slow offseason, I though it would be fun to start a miniseries. Throughout Mets history, there have been players who have been hated by the fans. When their names are mentioned, we cringe. However, when enough time passes, we start to realize that this hatred is unfair. The player wasn’t actually as bad as we think he was. So with this in mind, let’s roll back the clock and look out our first contestant: Jon Niese.
Niese was selected out of high school by the Mets in the 7th round of the 2005 draft. His selection got little fanfare, as the teams big selection that year was Mike Pelfrey of Wichita State. Despite all the hype, Pelfrey struggled in Queens. In his 7 seasons with the Mets, Pelfrey underperformed as his key stats show:
While Pelfrey had good seasons in 2008 and 2010, he didn’t do much else the rest of the time. Now compare that to the lowly regarded Niese:
While neither had tremendous success, Niese was a more effective pitcher. Nevertheless, Niese seems to come off as more hated, but it was Pelfrey who was a bust.
A look at the numbers will show that Niese was an effective pitcher. While he made his MLB debut in 2008, it was only in 2010 that Niese became a full-time starter. In his first two full seasons, Niese was essentially what you would expect from a back of the rotation kind of guy. He put up a 4.30 ERA while giving the the Mets 56 starts. However, his 3.75 FIP indicated that the Mets poor defense as well as Citi Fields dimensions did not do him any favors.
Over the next three seasons, Niese was above average. His ERA was 3.40 in both 2012 and 2014. In 2013, his 3.71 ERA was pretty solid as well. In this three-year window, Niese had an ERA 3.49 and averaged 28 starts a season. Look at Wheeler by comparison. From 2018-2019, Wheeler had a 3.65 ERA and averaged 30 starts. Wheeler ended up getting a megadeal from the Phillies and Niese went on to be hated. Even if we look at Niese’s 2015 season, he had an ERA of 4.13 in 29 starts. The 2015 Mets had such great pitching that Niese was clearly the fifth man in that rotation.
So this gets down to the main question. Why was Niese hated so much? He averaged over 6 innings per start from 2010-2015 and had a 3.86 ERA. That is not bad for a back of the rotation guy. When he got traded for Neil Walker, fans were elated. Here are the 5 reasons I believe that this phenomenon exists:
Reason 1: The team was bad
When the team is losing, the abysmal level of play is magnified. Even when an individual player is good, we often have bad feelings. Niese played most of his career prior to the Mets becoming good. He is associated sub-.500 seasons. For example, who remembers the good seasons that Eddie Murray had for the Mets in 1992 and 1993? It is the problem of being a good player on a bad team.
Reason 2: Comparison to pitching stars
By the end of Niese’s tenure with the Mets, he was unneeded. Names like Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard, Matz and Wheeler represented the future of the rotation. Heck, Bartolo Colon even had a cult following. Niese was just there. He pitched and that was it. Did anyone buy a Niese jersey? Probably not too many were sold. However, every other player mentioned had the star potential Niese never had. Even if we look at the earlier years that Niese was a starter, he was never the big gun. Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey got most of the attention.
Reason 3: The Madoff effect
The years Niese was a key starter, the Wilpon’s were not spending money to improve the team. When a big free agent hit the market, you could rest assured that the Mets were not interested. Due to the Madoff fiasco, the team had to rely on cheap talent. That was literally what Niese represented. He wasn’t a bad pitcher, but the Mets needed more. In many ways Niese was the symbol of the impoverished Mets.
Reason 4: Men on base
This could be why so many people didn’t like watching Niese pitch. It could be painful. Whenever Niese pitched, it seemed like baserunners were always on. He was in and out of trouble. In 2010, 2011 and 2013, his WHIP was over 1.400 on the season. He averaged over a hit per inning during his career with the Mets. So while Niese didn’t give up many homers, he frequently appeared to be one pitch away from being yanked from the game.
Reason 5: 2016 left a bad taste in our mouths.
The 2016 season saw multiple disastrous injuries to the pitching staff. Wheeler never came off the DL. Harvey was a tragedy. By September, Matz and deGrom were out for the season. When the Mets reacquired Niese in a trade with the Pirates, the hope was that he could return to his old form. Sadly, he was a nightmare and his career never got back on track.
When all is said and done, we should cut Jon Niese some slack. He was a respectable pitcher who had the misfortune of playing at the wrong time. Hopefully, Mets fans will one day look back at him and appreciate what he did for the team.
(David Weiss is a lifelong Mets fan. He has lived in Israel since 2008 and runs the Facebook page Jewish Mets Fans.)