It wasn’t the overwhelming debut of Matt Harvey but it’s hard to look at what Zack Wheeler did in his rookie season as anything other than a strong success. His overall 3.42 ERA was very nice and he pitched even better after some early struggles. After getting knocked around in his second and third MLB starts, Wheeler settled in to deliver a 3.11 ERA over his final 14 starts.
Another good sign for Wheeler is that he cut down his walks. After allowing 10 BB in his first 16 IP with the Mets, Wheeler finished with 36 BB in 84 IP. From August 10th through September 11th, Wheeler surrendered just 12 BB in 44.1 IP. He stumbled in his last start of the year, allowing 6 BB in 5 IP but otherwise showed fantastic progress in limiting his free passes.
The biggest concern about Wheeler as he debuted last year was his relatively high walk rate. Another concern that developed over his 17 starts with the Mets was his early high pitch counts. Seven times he failed to reach the sixth inning in a game and only three times did he complete seven innings. No one will complain when he strikes out 12 over six innings and throws 115 pitches. But the outings where he needs 106 pitches in a game where he throws 4.2 IP are another matter.
So, what will he do in 2014? Here’s what we think:
Obviously, our group liked what we saw of Wheeler, as the majority of us view him turning in an ERA of 3.50 or lower. Dan Kolton, who’s generally been the most pessimistic on our first few projections, sees a 2.79 ERA from Wheeler. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Chris Walendin, who projects a 4.52 ERA, one of only two of our group who sees Wheeler’s ERA north of the four mark. The most interesting projection comes from Dan Stack, who sees 21 outings of 7 IP or more from Wheeler in 2014. Walendin is on the other side of the fence with just five outings that long.
Here’s what the group as a whole projects for Wheeler in 2014:
Overall, our numbers are eerily similar with Niese and Wheeler. We project both to have nearly identical ERAs, with Wheeler checking in at 0.02 lower than Niese. Our forecasted IP totals are extremely close, too, with Wheeler coming in 0.2 IP higher. The group sees Wheeler succeeding beyond his peripherals. Our group FIP has him at 3.86 (Niese had a 3.64 projected FIP) – 38 points above our forecasted ERA.
Collectively, we have the top three starters for the Mets contributing 523.1 IP. The 2013 Mets received 520.1 IP from their three pitchers who threw the most innings.
Here’s our forecast along with what the other projection systems available on FanGraphs predict for Wheeler in 2014:
Ours is the most optimistic and generally because we expect him to pitch better than his peripherals. The FIPs from all of the forecasts are not that far apart yet we see Wheeler with a significantly lower ERA. Our innings totals are slightly higher but nothing too extreme. Oliver is the outlier by projecting just 146 IP. The Steamer projection has Wheeler with a 1.3 fWAR.
Check back Thursday for our next entry in the projection series.