Reasons why Lance Niekro is a mess to forecast:
- He has about 1,300 minor league at-bats....spread out over five years. His injuries have taken a lot of development time away.
- The first 1,000 of those at-bats were remarkably punchless. Until his 2004 season in Fresno, he averaged a home run about every 68 plate appearances (17 homers, 1153 plate appearances). From Fresno '04 to present, he averaged a home run about every 23 plate appearances (24 homers, 557 plate appearances). The increase in power wasn't stalled at all by his first exposure to major league pitching.
- His strikeout ratios:
Year PA K PA per K 2000 211 25 8.44 2001 167 14 11.93 2002 306 32 9.56 2003 406 40 10.15 2004 319 37 8.62 2005 301 54 5.57
- Niekro has the proper work visas, and can legally be described as a brain dead Caribbean player hacking at slop nightly. He often looked lost at the plate last year, swinging at first pitches long after it was clear teams were going to attack his impatient approach. Once the book on Niekro was left above the toilet in front offices everywhere, he was an easy out. It didn't seem as if Niekro was ever able to make a counter-adjustment.
- Historical minor-league splits are almost impossible to find. CNN/SI used to have them, but "used to" doesn't do much good. Niekro was unquestionably useless against righties last year. The splits were so extreme, it almost seems as if his numbers against lefties and righties last year were both some variety of fluke. The lack of historical information doesn't help any. I'm all for trying to determine if he should be a platoon player, but I just hope it isn't July when Felipe decides to start Mark Sweeney against right-handers if Niekro's numbers aren't substantially better than last year.
- Niekro acknowledged in an interview this year he hoped to walk more, and show more patience at the plate. The confetti comes down if he actually does it, not if he just pays some lip service, but the thought is encouraging.