While you were busy making Mets jokes for the past three years, Jonathon Niese turned out to be pretty good. The Mets think so, at least. And even though Niese isn't scheduled to be a free agent until after the 2015 season, the Mets are reportedly close to a five-year extension that would take him through the 2016 season, according to ESPN New York.
But when I write that he's "pretty good", is he? He's pretty ordinary according to his baseball-card stats -- a 22-23 win-loss record, and a career 4.39 ERA. In two full seasons and two partial seasons, he's never had an ERA below 4.00.
So think of this as a new-school contract. Well, Sandy Alderson isn't new-school. He was managing rosters back in the '80s, when M.C. Hammer was just hardly known outside of Oakland. But the idea behind the extension is new-school. Niese has outstanding peripherals. His strikeout rate and walk rate both went in the right direction last season. In every season he's pitched, he's allowed a batting average on balls in play well above the league-average. Over his career, he's allowed a .337 BABIP, which is about 40 points higher than you'd expect.
But does that mean he's unlucky or different? We're already used to the idea of pitchers who can "beat" BABIP, like Jeremy Guthrie and Matt Cain. What about pitchers who just can't help giving up hits when allowing contact?
That's pretty unlikely, though. And the Mets are gambling on it being pretty unlikely. The Mets are confident that Niese will be a pitcher worth locking up once people start catching the ball behind him. ESPN New York suggests that Niese's deal is expected to be similar to the five-year, $28.5 million deal that Derek Holland signed with the Texas Rangers.