That seems like a strong statement about a pitcher that Elias Sporst Bureau tells us today is 4-0 with a 2.85 ERA since June 1st and seems to be the only starting pitcher on the staff that can actually win games of late. While it is a harsh statement, it is also a reality because Niemann has been been extremely fortunate of late with the homerun ball. After all, his FIP is nearly a full run higher than his actual ERA and his strikeout to walk rate is a mere 1.3. Normally, those types of situations lead to disasters like what Scott Kazmir had before going onto the disabled list, but Niemann has somehow remained undefeated and has had a sub-3.00 ERA over the last six weeks.
It is no coincidence that over these past six weeks, Niemann has yet to allow a home run. Since giving up a home run on May 23rd, Niemann has now gone eight straight starts without giving up a longball – quite the feat for a pitcher that has 44% of his balls in play as fly balls. Since the start of 2008, combining AAA numbers with his major league numbers, Niemann’s home run rate (HR/9) is 0.85. The graph below shows Niemann’s HR/9 rate by month in a linear flow:
It would be one thing if Niemann’s GB/FB rates had changed in that time, but he was actually more of a groundball pitcher in AAA than he has been in the majors. Niemann has had months in the past where he has exceeded his mean HR/9 rate, only to regress mightily the next month. That is what makes this back to back performance in June and, so far, July, quite the anomaly. Given his track record of regressing heavily the following month, I am watching this start in U.S. Cellular Field through covered eyes as a flyball pitcher in a home-run friendly ballpark with a team full of big bats such as Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, and a very hot Alexei Ramirez is the perfect recipe for some serious regression. If you watched last night’s start, you saw Gavin Floyd, who is very similar to Niemann, give up three solo shots as well as two long fly balls to the fence. It has been a nice run for Niemann but I am afraid it could come to a very ugly end here very soon.
If you are not a believer in regression to the mean, I strongly encourage you to read this excellent piece by Dave Cameron over at USS Mariner.
Tonight’s lineup versus lefty Clayton Richard, courtesy of @SPTimesRays:
1 – Upton
2 – Bartlett
3 – Longoria
4 – Zobrist
5 – Burrell
6 – Aybar
7 – Kapler
8 – Dillon
9 – Navarro
@SPTimesRays also tells us the White Sox have scratched John Danks from his start tomorrow so the Rays will be facing rookie Carlos Torres.