The MLB playoffs are moving forward without a representative from New York. There was a long time where between the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants, the Big Apple always had a team to love or hate in the World Series. These days, the Mets do a great job not making the playoffs, and the Yankees cannot be expected to get there every year, although their fans sometimes expect it. So with the Yankees failing to get any sort of offense going against the Tigers, the baseball offseason officially begins in New York.
The offseason is not only a time to look forward to new players and contract negotiations, but also a time to look back on how our team’s and players’ performance will affect the team going forward. In New York, today is a good day to take a look at the former golden boy pitchers Jon Niese and Phil Hughes. These two guys joined Joba Chamberlain (whose strange, up-and-down career sort of makes him an outlier in these conversations) as THE FUTURE of pitching for the Mets and Yankees. Both teams acquired an ace to anchor the rotations, but these two guys came into the majors at 21 years old and with a whole lot of promise. Their careers took different arcs, but have found them here, 6 years later, in very similar positions.
Something to throw in early: Hughes earned 5 postseason starts, by way of being on the Yankees. His numbers in the playoffs are very pedestrian at 2-4 with a 4.54 ERA, but that is not something I am ready to hold against him; the playoffs are a very different animal, and a young pitcher is bound to be eaten alive once or twice. Moving on….
The pitchers’ careers are separated by 9 regular season starts (103 for Hughes, 94 for Niese) and an ERA difference of 0.35 (Niese’s 4.06 beats out Hughes’ 4.39). I’m not going to say there is not difference between those two numbers, but both are above 4, and Niese’s ERA doesn’t make him appear any more dominant than Hughes.
Phil dominates the win totals, with his 52-36 (.591 W%) killing Niese’s 35-32 (.522). I have a solid explanation for this though: Hughes went 18-8 in 2010, a year in which he averaged a whopping SEVEN RUNS in support from the Yankee’s offense. It’s sort of hard to imagine a pitcher getting that kind of support and finishing with a .500 W%. You cannot argue, however, with the fact that Hughes has won 15 games, a benchmark for a solid starting pitcher, twice, while Niese reached a career high with 13 this year.
HOW THEY GOT THERE
Hughes has spent a lot more time playing Major League Baseball than Niese. Jon Niese didn’t begin to get serious playing time until 2010; Hughes had played in 72 games and started 28 before 2010. He also entered the league a year earlier, in 2007, and started 13 games with a 4.46 ERA. Hughes spent most of 2008 away from the majors, only starting 8 games, and most of 2009 in the bullpen, appearing in 51 games with 7 starts. The bullpen stint contributed to his career best 3.03 ERA, and you cannot forget that his team won the World Series.
Niese saw very little action before 2010, pitching a total of 8 games, all starts, to a 5.22 ERA. The Mets chose to take a much more careful approach with the guy they were grooming to become their next elite left handed pitcher. The Yankees had a lot of hope for Hughes by this point, as he was considered a ‘phenom’ in the minor leagues, rather than a long term developmental project. He saw a lot more playing time, and basically spent those developmental years in the major leagues. (The joke here is that the Mets are basically a developmental team playing in the major leagues.)
WHERE THEY ARE HEADED
Hughes and Niese, in 2012 and beyond, are mainstays in the rotation….they will not lose their spots any time soon. To attempt to predict where they are headed, I look back at the last three years of their respective careers:
Hughes: 80G, 75GS, 39-26, 4.48 ERA, 358 K, 131 BB
Niese: 87G, 86GS, 33-30, 3.97 ERA, 441 K, 155 BB
We can immediately let the ERA and strikeout numbers jump out and proclaim Niese a better pitcher, even with 11 more starts. But the averages are there, and they are very close to one another in terms of performance. Niese plays on a Mets team that is constantly taking decisions away from starting pitchers, and Hughes plays on a winning Yankees team in a small ballpark. All variables considered, they’ve maybe not arrived to the same place, but they aren’t too far apart.
But the most important thing to consider here, in my opinion, is that both pitchers have weaknesses. Niese is pretty inconsistent; while he can go out on any given day and be brilliant, turning in 7 and 8 inning quality starts, he is also very capable of letting up a stinker at any given moment. Hughes, on the other hand, has a pretty serious issue: he gives up home runs. A lot. Some of this has to do with the short porch in Yankee Stadium, which is known to turn a pop fly into a big fly, but a lot of it has to do with Phil being a fly-ball pitcher who gives up very hard hit fly balls. We have seen Hughes give up 2, 3, 4 HR in a game before, and it’s never surprising.
In the same 3 year span I used earlier, Hughes has allowed 69 HR in 442.1 IP, compared to 56 for Niese in 521.1 IP. The numbers do not lie there.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?
All these numbers and figures are fun, but what does this mean for Yankees and Mets fans? We are basically where we started, with two very promising young pitchers. Both are coming off seasons to be proud of: Hughes’ 16-13 record and Niese’s 3.40 ERA show that they are capable of being great. For now, though, they aren’t quite there yet.
I don’t know about you, but I am very excited to see where we are in another five years, with both these two and the FEARSOME FOURSOME of Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. Stay tuned for the next edition of “5 Years Later…” in 2017. As long as the world doesn’t end in 2 months.