Jon Niese and the Dangers of Average

In many different ways, Jon Niese is average. But when it comes to fantasy, average is not very attractive. Elite needs to be valued more highly. This sort of realization has repercussions for leagues of any sort and size.

By wins above replacement, Niese has pretty much been average for the last five years. He’s put up 9.2 wins, and a perfect ten would be perfectly average. In terms of what he’s done on the field — he’s missed a few games here or there — his 3.72 career FIP is right there with last year’s 3.81 league FIP.

It doesn’t stop there. Until last year, Niese had been averaging right around 90.5 mph on his fastball, and the average for a left-handed starter is 90.6. His 7.9% swinging strike rate is right there with the league’s 8.8% average. He’s struck out 18.6% of the batters he’s faced and walked 6.9% — the league’s starters averaged 19.4% and 7.1% last season. He had a 47.7% ground-ball rate last year while the league averaged 44.6%

Even on the pitch-type level, dude’s blah. His curve gets 11% whiffs — average. His four-seamer gets 6.8% whiffs — average. His cutter gets 11% whiffs, and that’s above the 9.1% average, but there’s an asterisk there. His cutter goes three miles per hour slower than his fastball, drops two inches more than most cutters, and is probably a ‘baby slider.’ If you put that cutter up against sliders, it’s below average.

So let’s say the dude is pretty close to league average. In real-life baseball, that’s obviously an asset. Despite his projections in that department, it’s likely that he’ll be worth a win again, and he’s only due seven million bucks, and so that’s fine. You slot that guy in, you don’t pay him much, you thank him for his services rendered.

In fantasy? It’s really not that attractive in most leagues. In our 5×5, 15-team end-of-season value rankings, he was worth $1.15 and was the 75th-best starting pitcher. That’s the definition of replacement level. Your dollar fare.

Of course, if he had slightly better health, you might get a little more bang for your buck. But he’s only averaged about 170 innings per season over the last five, and so you couldn’t really give him much more than the 187 he got last year.

At 28 going on 29, it’s not likely to get better. So in fantasy, you really only want this guy if eating up innings at a league-average rate is useful to you. That’s not a brain buster.

Does this mean anything for our current research on Arsenal Score? Yes, obviously. Someone with a large amount of average pitches might actually score well in that department — look at, for example, Edwin Jackson. He ended up 34th, right behind Jose Fernandez. In terms of wins above replacement, he’s again around an average pitcher, but he has four separate pitches he throws, and that pumps up any approach that sums all his z-scores.

Let’s say we average the summed z-scores for number of qualifying pitches? Now Jackson looks more mediocre. His average across his pitches is .63, which is good for 41st. Or just a few spots behind Tyler Chatwood and Taylor Jordan. Of course, Jon Lester is also down there.

Two things come to mind: it might be good to average the scores, but we should also reward elite pitches thrown a lot, so we may want to weight the pitches for how often they are thrown.

The other? Once they have a track record of any length in the big leagues, it’s best to use the traditional measures of success, lest you end up with Edwin Jackson equalling Jon Lester by any statistic. Any Arsenal Score will just be hoping to find the next diamond in the rough. We could call it The Carrasco.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

How much does the value of average go up in a 12 team NL only league? Seems like it should be a pretty significant adjustment.