Throughout his career, Jeff Niemann  has shown signs of excellence in short bursts. Unfortunately, he has not shown the ability – or durability – to sustain that success for more than a few starts at a time. On a smaller scale, he sometimes struggles to maintain his level of production within the same start.
Thursday afternoon was a prime example.
Making his 2012 debut, Niemann started strong against the Detroit Tigers (Game Recap ). Through four innings, he allowed just two hits against the talented Tigers lineup. He struck out four batters and induced five groundball outs. Of his 69 pitches, 43 of them were strikes.
The fifth inning was a different story. Niemann allowed three runs on two hits and two walks. After averaging 17 pitches per inning over the first four frames, he needed 32 pitches to retire the side in the fifth. Of those 32 pitches, 16 were located out of the strike zone. Despite the loss, the right-hander’s results were not bad (5 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K). That said, the sudden drop off in effectiveness is a concern.
Looking at his career numbers, Niemann has historically struggled after passing 75 pitches.
Niemann opened the fifth inning today with 69 pitches. After a six-pitch walk to Alex Avilia, he was at an even 75 pitches. Following the 75th pitch, he gave up another walk along with a single and a triple sandwiched in between two strikeouts.
The hardest pitch registered by Niemann came in the fourth inning when he hit 92 MPH on the gun. The pitch was his 67th of the game. He would throw 34 more pitches on the day; however, he would top 90 MPH just once more.
During the battle for the fifth starter’s spot between Niemann and Wade Davis , many said Davis would make a better reliever because his stuff was more suited for a bullpen role. While that may be true, Niemann’s durability – or lack there off – raises questions about his performance in the rotation.
In 52 starts from 2010-2011, Niemann pitched at least five innings 81% of the time. He went a minimum of six innings in 67% of those games. Meanwhile, after the sixth inning there is a steep drop off. He completed seven innings just 37% of the time and pitched eight or more innings just five times.
One start is no reason to push the panic button. That said, Thursday’s game continued an established trend of temporary effectiveness for Niemann. On top of his injury history, if he is unable to sustain success for more than 75 pitches a start, or more than a handful of games in a row, one must wonder if his long-term future may require short-range usage.