Comparing Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler after 10 starts

Saturday night Zack Wheeler made his 10th start of the year, matching what Matt Harvey did in his rookie season of 2012 before being shut down for the year. Wheeler will continue to make more starts for the Mets but let’s use this moment to compare what the Mets’ two young aces did in their rookie seasons.

Harvey 59.1 3 5 2.73 42 19 18 5 26 70 140 1.146
Wheeler 57.0 5 2 3.63 51 26 23 9 28 45 100 1.386

Harvey came up and pitched better than what most people anticipated him being able to do in the majors. Wheeler has made the majors and essentially done what most of us expected him to do – show flashes of brilliance and struggle with his command.

Two things jump out at me when looking at the numbers posted above. First, a good chunk of the difference in runs allowed can be attributed to home runs. Second, the difference in walks allowed is not nearly as big as I would have expected. Some might also mention the strikeouts but Harvey was so incredible in that department from the moment he stepped on an MLB mound that I do not find that surprising at all.

Now let’s look at some non-traditional numbers for the two in their rookie seasons. The number in parentheses for the last four columns indicates average velocity for the pitch:

Harvey .262 3.30 3.49 1.02 24.5 15.4 9.6 65.4 (94.7) 13.0 (88.4) 9.6 (82.0) 12.0 (85.8)
Wheeler .258 5.15 4.77 0.97 20.5 11.6 13.0 74.0 (94.6) 14.1 (87.6) 8.2 (77.6) 3.7 (87.6)

There is a lot to chew on in the above chart. Both pitchers were remarkably similar in their ability to limit BABIP, a skill Harvey has duplicated here in 2013 with a .258 mark this season. However, we see a huge difference in their ERA estimators. Given Harvey’s abundance of strikeouts and Wheeler’s elevated HR rate, the difference in FIP is not a big surprise. But even after we normalize homers, Harvey still enjoys a substantial advantage in xFIP.

The GB/FB rates being so close surprised me. However, Harvey has taken a step forward in that category in 2013, as he now has a 1.42 rate, meaning he’s getting more grounders than in his rookie season. The fact Harvey was able to post a .262 BABIP last year with a 24.5 LD% is pretty amazing. The back-of-the-envelope way to come up with BABIP is to add 120 to LD% and adjust the decimal.

This rough estimate thinks Harvey should have had a .365 BABIP in his rookie season. Even the more sophisticated xBABIP calculator from FanGraphs thinks Harvey’s batted ball profile should have produced a .318 BABIP last year.

Both pitchers throw four pitches but Wheeler is much more of a fastball/slider guy at this point, with 88 percent of his offerings being one or the other. When they were both in the minors, the impression was that Wheeler had the better fastball but we see that in their rookie seasons their fastball velocity has been virtually identical.

Harvey has been equal to or better than Wheeler in the majority of the categories that we looked at in both charts, with the noticeable exception of Wins. Fortunately, the offense does not take the day off when Wheeler takes the mound. The Mets have scored an average of 5.36 runs per game when Wheeler starts, compared to 2.30 for Harvey in 2012 and 3.57 for him in 2013.

What Harvey has done from the moment he arrived in the majors is incredible. The fact that we can post Wheeler’s numbers next to his and not be embarrassed is a great thing to see. However, we should be aware that Wheeler’s peripherals do not paint such a rosy picture. Hopefully this time next year we can see better rates from Wheeler in Ks, BB and HR as he tries to keep pace with Harvey and give the Mets’ rotation two true aces.

8 comments for “Comparing Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler after 10 starts

  1. TexasGusCC
    August 11, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Another very good article Brian. Thanks for the info.

  2. Beamer691
    August 11, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Great article Brian, optimism tempered with reality.

  3. Chris F
    August 11, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Agreed, very well done. It’ll be interesting to see how this looks after 20 too!

    As far as forums go, one has to be on Facebook to log in?

  4. August 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    I’ve seen a little improvement in Wheeler with every appearance. In that way, he’s similar to Harvey.

    I’d like to see Zack strike out more batters, which would help him be more consistently successful. In the meantime, if he can be effective by pitching to contact, I’ll take that too.

    • August 11, 2013 at 12:38 pm

      I hate to be greedy but I’m surprised that Wheeler has not fanned more batters. I didn’t expect him to be at Harvey level — maybe halfway between where he is now and where Harvey was in 2012?

      Thanks to all above for the kind words!

      • Chris F
        August 11, 2013 at 1:00 pm

        It’s coming Brian. I think he’s got the Ks in him.

  5. Name
    August 11, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    When I think of command, I don’t look at just the walks. I also look at the number of hits, because not hitting your location will result in more hits as well. Ie. Jeremy Hefner against the D-Backs. He “only” had 3 walks in 5 innings, but as anyone who was watching could tell, he had absolutely no command and he gave up 8 hits as a result. I think that Wheeler falls into this same category.
    In terms of comparing Harvey and Wheeler, you could more easily justify all Harvey’s walks because of all the strikeouts he got. Wheeler isn’t striking out guys at a rate to justify his walks.

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