A review of Zack Wheeler’s rookie campaign

Zack WheelerOn Friday, Zack Wheeler was decent against the Cleveland Indians in what is likely one of his last starts. He allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits, five walks, and struck out three over five innings of work. The baseball season is now winding down, and it looks as though Wheeler will probably not be making more than two or three more starts. The Mets may even consider shutting him down completely, given his complaints of being tired and Matt Harvey’s devastating injury — the Mets may not want to take any more chances.

Wheeler has been the Mets’ top prospect ever since he was acquired in exchange for Carlos Beltran. He was even thought by many to be better than Harvey. We found out that wasn’t the case. However, it’s important to examine Wheeler’s rookie performance, within the context of how other 23 year-old rookie Met pitchers — between 1980 and 2013 — performed with at least 60 innings pitched.

Name K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP WAR
Rick Aguilera 5.25 2.66 0.61 3.35 3.34 1.7
Jonathon Niese 7.67 3.21 1.04 4.20 4.10 1.7
Ron Darling 5.95 4.55 0.74 3.81 4.11 1.1
Paul Wilson 6.58 4.29 0.91 5.38 4.65 0.9
Bobby Jones 5.11 3.21 0.88 3.60.35 4.29 0.6
Zack Wheeler 7.67 3.99 0.92 3.38 4.14 0.6
Mike Pelfrey 5.58 4.67 0.78 5.58 5.03 0.3
John Pacella 6.53 6.68 0.59 5.49 4.43 0.1

Wheeler’s rookie campaign, compared to other Mets’ rookie starters his age, is not that spectacular. However, it is worth noting that Aguilera, Niese, and Darling each threw at least 115 innings in their rookie campaigns, and therefore have higher WARs than the rest of the group. Wheeler follows the basic trend of the group: not a lot of homers given up, not a lot of strikeouts, and a lot of walks. The main complaint about Wheeler since his debut has been his control. The complaint is reasonable because Wheeler has 1.92 K/BB ratio, which puts him between fellow rookie Nathan Eovaldi and Taylor Chatwood.

Wheeler’s control issues will likely stabilize with experience. When Max Scherzer first came up, he struggled with command — then cut down on his walks — and now he’s one of the best pitchers in the AL. This is just another growing pain for Wheeler. He’s going to struggle with command issues, but eventually he’ll figure out to how to harness some command. He has the potential to become a guy with high strikeouts, coupled with moderate command.

One other thing that’s interesting is how similar Wheeler’s rookie campaign is to Niese’s first year in the majors. They matched each other in strikeout rates, and neither had good command. The main difference was that Wheeler was a little better at run prevention because he had a lower ERA. However, if he had a full season this year, he probably would have regressed back to his  FIP and had the same ERA as Niese. This doesn’t mean that Wheeler is going to have the same kind of career as Niese. Wheeler has a completely different style than Niese, but their similarities are worth noting.

Zack Wheeler’s rookie campaign was solid. It was mostly what we should have expected: some signs of brilliance and some signs of growing pains. Wheeler performed the way most 23-year-old Mets rookies performed. He wasn’t Harvey, but no one was asking him to be a Harvey-caliber pitcher. Every pitcher develops differently. Some hit the ground running like Harvey, while others need some time to get used to their surroundings, like Wheeler.

7 comments for “A review of Zack Wheeler’s rookie campaign

  1. Metsense
    September 8, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Wheeler is so similar to Niese but hopefully he will be better than Niese because he is a power pitcher with more power than Niese. The command should improve. Thanks Spencer for an enlightening article.

  2. TexasGusCC
    September 8, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    I have written before: Greg Maddux and Catfish Hunter, two of the best control pitchers ever, both said that control was the hardest thing to master in pitching.

  3. Name
    September 9, 2013 at 1:12 am

    This is probably a debate for another time and another day, but if you use bWAR instead of fWAR, you will get a totally different list and could come to totally different conclusions.

    Rick Aguluera : 1.5
    Jon Niese : -0.0
    Ron Darling : 1.9
    Paul Wilson : -1.9
    Bobby Jones : 0.4
    Zack Wheeler : 1.1
    Mike Pelfrey : -0.4
    John Pacella : -0.5

    Unlike fWAR which makes it seems like all the pitchers were positive contributions when they first came up(and from the ERA’s it’s easy to tell that’s not true), it is actually possible to earn negative bWAR values, which tells you whether the pitcher was positive or not for the team. In this case, we see that 4 are in the negative and 4 are positive. Wheeler is only behind Darling and Aguilera, and that is mostly because they pitched 120 and 40 more innings than Wheeler respectively.
    Yes, he’s had shoddy command at times, and probably been lucky with runners in scoring position, he’s put himself in a good position for years to come.

    • September 9, 2013 at 7:11 am

      But this is a circular argument. If you say that the pitchers are lousy because of their ERA and you want their WAR to give you the same results — of course bWAR is going to give you the answer you’re looking for because its main pitching input is RA.

      But then you’re giving credit/blame for fielding and sequencing and luck to the pitchers. If you want to be like Stephen and claim that the only thing that matters is RUNS, RUNS, RUNS, RUNS then use bWAR.

      But if you want to know how well a pitcher performed in helping his team win excluding the performance of his teammates and other outside forces then you are better served with fWAR.

      • Name
        September 9, 2013 at 10:23 pm

        Point noted.
        Brian, If it’s not too much to ask, if you have some free time in the offseason, could you perhaps write an article outlining the positives of FIP? Because the more I think about FIP and how it is constructed, the more I dislike and disagree with it.

        • David Groveman
          September 10, 2013 at 2:21 pm

          Interesting you mention that as my Top Prospect list will be listing FIP with pitchers. I love OPS+ for hitters and don’t have the same go-to stat for pitching. FIP does at least factor in K’s and BB’s.

  4. Doug Parker
    September 10, 2013 at 7:38 am

    Metrics aside, when I see Wheeler pitch, I think of Darling as his ceiling. And I’d be thrilled if he reached that height…

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