Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jeff Niemann 2009

The biggest negative about Jeff Niemann is that he isn't going to start the season in a major league starting rotation. With David Price filling the last spot in their rotation, Niemann will either have to spend time in the bullpen or the minor leagues. He's still an interesting enough pitcher, and close enough to a major league rotation spot if there's an injury or trade, that he's worth evaluating. Niemann's AAA numbers paint the picture of someone who should be moderately effective in the majors immediately. I would expect something like a K/9 of 7.0 and BB/9 of 4.5. Hopefully his control will improve over time. While Niemann is going to be 26 in a few days, the window of opportunity for pitchers to continue improving lasts a little longer than for hitters. While I don't have access to minor league groundball rates, Niemann's home run rates suggest that he doesn't induce a particularly high rate of groundballs. So why do I consider him an interesting pitcher to follow? In an article in The Hardball Times, Josh Kalk showed that using 'pitcher similarity scores' that measure the actual physical traits of a pitcher's pitches (velocity, movement, etc.) Niemann is in some pretty select company. His closest 'comps' include Soria, Kershaw, Cain, Chamberlain, and some guy named Lincecum. While there hasn't been any research yet on how valuable a predictive tool this kind of analysis is, it'll be interesting to see what it means in Niemann's case.

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