On 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.
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.