Monday, April 19, 2010

Young Jon Niese is Old Andy Pettitte

Jon Niese is listed at 6'4", 215 lbs. Left-handed.
Andy Pettitte is listed at 6'5", 225 lbs. Left-handed.

Over the last few years, Andy Pettitte has featured an 89 mph fastball (55% of the time), a 84 mph cutter (22% of the time), a 75 mph curveball (13% of the time) and a changeup once in a while at around 80 mph.

Jon Niese has fallen in love with the cutter, and throws it more, but otherwise offers almost an identical repertoire. He's been throwing his fastball at 90 mph (56% of the time), a 87 mph cutter (34%), a 76 mph curveball (5%) and a changeup once in a while at 82 mph.

Niese throws harder than Pettitte does today at age 37, and trades some curveballs for cutters, but aside from that, they are mostly identical. I imagine that as the season goes on, Niese will begin to work more curveballs into his gameplan. It is a great pitch. In fact, he still claims that the curveball is his "best pitch."[1]

Signature Facial Feature
Pettitte: Funny nose
Niese: Funny nose

Distribution of Outs
Pettitte has always been great at getting ground ball outs. Since 2002, when we have batted ball data on fangraphs, Pettitte has induced ground balls 49% of the time as compared to 30% fly balls. Niese so far in his career has gotten ground balls 43% of the time along with 34% fly balls. As a young grasshopper with much to learn, one might expect that Niese is still learning how to get major league hitters to pound the ball into the ground.

Other Pitch Data
Pettitte has changed a lot as his career has progressed, pitching more to contact with the cutter as he has aged. As such, over the last four seasons or so, Pettitte has gotten batters to swing at pitches outside the zone around 25% of the time, while throwing around 60% first pitch strikes. Jon Niese has gotten batters to chase 25.7% of the time and thrown 61.8% first pitch strikes.

For his career, Pettitte has had a lot more swing and miss stuff than Niese. Since 2002, batters have only made contact with Pettitte's pitches outside of the strike zone 53% of the time they have swung at it, compared to Niese's 66%. However, Pettitte's contact percentage on those pitches over the last two seasons has been 58% and 63%.

It appears to me that Jon Niese pitches almost identically to the version of Andy Pettitte that we saw in Houston and while in his second stint with the Yankees.

Believe it or not, despite being a Yankee and a champion, I think Andy Pettitte has been largely underappreciated by the national media. A quick glance at Pettitte's performance while outside of the high-octane AL East really tells you all you need to know about how good his stats might have been: 519 innings, 3.38 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.4 k/9.

As the above indicates, raw numbers don't tell the whole story about how good Andy has been over the course of his career. The 231 career wins are great, but he's also got the 16th best adjusted ERA+ among all active pitchers in baseball, a list which includes relievers. Limit it only to starters, and he's tied for 14th. Limit it only to pitchers who have already seen their "decline phase" in their career, eliminating young studs like Haren and Sabathia, and he could be as high as 9th.

If Jon Niese continues to pitch as intelligently as he has pitched thus far, with a repetoire which is harder and more dangerous than Andy Pettitte's, we could really be on to something. To state the obvious, Niese would be lucky to have half the career Pettitte has. But if he can throw three pitches, and work both sides of the plate like he did against the Cubs, and show us that he'll pitch with his brain as well as his arm - he could have a long and successful career.

[1] He said so on WFAN last week.

1 comment:

Rob A from FBD said...

It would be the Mets dream for Niese to turn into Pettitte. BTW, I think Pettitte's signature facial feature would have to be that chin. I've never thought of his nose as weird.

nice article.