Jeff Niemann is an interesting story heading into the season. Currently he's entrenched as the team's number three starter after a solid rookie season that saw him post a 4.07 FIP. That was much better than most of us thought he was capable of doing after winning the 5th starter role out of Spring Training, especially considering he struck out only 125 batters in 180.2IP. While I wish the best for Niemann in 2010, I can't help but be reminded of a pitcher who was in a similar position heading into last season and couldn't recapture the success he had previously tasted. His name is Andy Sonnanstine.
Both Niemann and Sonnanstine enjoyed success in the minor leagues, each posting sub-4 FIPs in each of their minor league stops before reaching the big show. Though their breakout seasons were a year apart, look at how similar they were:
13-9, 4.38 ERA/3.91 FIP, 5.77 K/9, 1.72 BB/9
13-6, 3.94 ERA/4.07 FIP, 6.23 K/9, 2.94 BB/9
Not too much difference. Where Sonnanstine has an edge in FIP and BB/9, Niemann has the edge in ERA and K/9. Like Sonnanstine the year before, Niemann won the 5th starter battle out of training camp and doesn't have to worry about his rotation spot this time around. We all know how disappointing Sonnanstine's 2009 season was looking like he had channeled his inner Jose Lima for 18 starts. He would only start three more games after June 25th, eventually being replaced in the rotation by top prospect David Price. The Rays are in an eerily similar situation this season, with Jeremy Hellickson stowed away in a glass case only to be broken upon emergency.
Again, I wish the best for Niemann. He seems like a nice enough guy. Maybe its just because Spring Training bores the hell out of me, forcing me to find stories when there really aren't any, but I can't be the only getting deja vu about this, can I?