Even though Jeff Niemann isn't starting tonight, I wanted to give this proper attention before we (I?) spend most of tomorrow talking and focusing on the draft. We've talked about Niemann cutting down on his pregame throwing as a potential reason for improvement. More sharp, more velocity, and he seems to have a better feel for his curve which he's using more. As far as I can tell, that started prior to the Baltimore game on May 13th. Let's slice and dice.
April 11th - May 8th: 6 GS, 28.2 IP, 13.4 BB%, 11.9 K%, 4 HR, 57% strikes, 6% swinging strikes
May 13th - June 3rd: 5 GS, 31 IP, 4.9 BB%, 18.7 K%, 4 HR, 66% strikes, 8% swinging strikes
Improved durability/efficiency? Check.
Improved command? Check.
More whiffs? Barely, but check.
His FIP in either month is not incredibly pretty; both are over 5, but check this out. Over his last 31 innings Niemann has a 3.91 FIP. In March/April it was 6.04; in May, 5.25. Going from the ~5.5 range to ~4 is pretty impressive. That's the difference between Jon Lester, Gavin Floyd, and Johnny Cueto; and Braden Looper, Jeremy Guthrie, and Armando Galarraga. That's a huge, huge, huge difference.
Last 30 days: 73% fastballs (92 MPH), 12% curves
May: 72% fastballs (91 MPH), 10% curves
March/April: 73% fastballs (91 MPH), 7% curves
I complained a lot about Niemann's fastball usage. The main points were: A) it's not a very good pitch when being thrown 90-92 MPH and he had spotty control of it, and B) not good when his fastball is taking away shine from his curve. As it turns out, Niemann has improved his velocity and command of the pitch, so I'll go ahead and retract that criticism until further notice.
Niemann still needs to work on changing his early game predictability, but he's improved markedly since my last lengthy Niemann post. Certianly there's a chance that Niemann falls into the quicksand again, but there's enough support outside of improved peripherals to suggest this could be legitimate. The funniest aspect is that Niemann always claimed to be a slow warmer; apparently he's just a big dummy.