With the free agent pitchers quickly signing with teams other than the Mets, should the team look to one of its own to fill the final rotation slot?  Here’s a look at Fernando Nieve.

Newsday’s Ken Davidoff tweeted Tuesday that general manager Omar Minaya claims that Fernando Nieve “is probably fifth” meaning he is one of the starting pitchers.  This came on the same day that Ben Sheets and Jon Garland signed with other teams, narrowing the realistic options for the team to add a free agent.

Last year, Nieve came on and did a good job while healthy, as he posted a 2.95 ERA in eight games, including seven starts.  Of course, as a member of the 2009 Mets, Nieve was injured last year.  His season ended after one inning in a start on July 19th, when he strained his right quadriceps while trying to beat out an infield hit.

The Snowman (Nieve means snow in Spanish) was claimed off waivers last March from the Astros.  Once a flame thrower, Nieve underwent Tommy John surgery earlier in his career and now throws in the low 90s.  He opened last season in Triple-A and got the call to the majors when John Maine went on the disabled list.

Nieve opened in the bullpen, and threw two scoreless innings in his Mets debut.  A week later he took his first turn in the rotation and hurled a Quality Start, as he allowed two runs in 6.2 IP.  Nieve authored Quality Starts his first three starts and went 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA in that stretch.  The next four outings were not nearly as pretty.  Nieve finished the season 0-3 with a 5.06 ERA over his final 16 IP.

Positives

Nieve throws his fastball for strikes.  An extreme fly ball pitcher, he did a very good job of limiting the HR ball last year, as he allowed 0.98 HR/9.

Negatives

For a guy with a pretty good fastball, Nieve did not rack up a lot of strikeouts last year.  His K/9 was 5.65 and even worse, his BB/9 was 4.66.  And simply put, no pitcher with a 1.21 K/BB ratio is going to be successful in the long run.  No pitcher who had enough innings to qualify had a K/BB ratio that poor last year.  Trevor Cahill had the worst mark at 1.25 and he posted a 4.63 ERA.

Bottom line, Nieve was amazingly lucky last year.  In addition to the awful K/BB ratio, he posted a 1.50 WHIP.  Those two numbers do not add up to a 2.95 ERA.  But Nieve had a .285 BABIP and he stranded 85.3 percent of the runners who reached base, simply an unsustainable number.  Those figures explain how his ERA was so good when his FIP checked in at 4.90 for the season.

Outlook

Nieve is the exact type of guy you want to have for rotation depth stashed in the minors.  If a starter goes down with an injury, he can fill in for a couple of weeks and not embarrass the team.  But in no way, shape or form should the 27-year old be counted on as a rotation guy when the season starts, especially for a team hoping to make a playoff run.  His professional high in IP is 101.2, which he posted back in 2006.

Ideally, Nieve would be the seventh pitcher on the team.  Hopefully the Mets will make a trade or sign a pitcher and have both Nieve and Jon Niese open the year in Buffalo, waiting for the first injury/implosion.  The remaining free agent pitchers do not inspire a lot of confidence, so Minaya may be better off exploring trades.  The team needs a person who can give quality innings.  Garland would have been a perfect choice.  Nieve is not likely to give either innings or quality if he is counted on for anything more than spot duty in the rotation.

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