As an active reader of what is probably way too many Mets blogs, message boards, ESPN Insider articles, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a feeling that the Mets should consider dangling Zack Wheeler in a trade for a premium bat. The biggest name being thrown around right now is Starlin Castro, mainly because the Cubs suddenly became loaded at SS with the addition of Addison Russell to their already stocked farm system.
This is a crazy idea. Not that I actually think Sandy Alderson would do it, but I get the feeling that many people truly don’t understand how good a year Wheeler is having. While his record is a pedestrian 5-8, he is top 20 in the NL in the following categories (min 80 IP):
54.1 GB% (8th)
9.72 K/9 (9th)
.58 HR/9 (9th)
.318 BABIP vs. (9th)
105 Ks (13th)
22.9 K% (13th)
3.49 xFIP (19th)
94 xFIP – (19th)
It’s true his walks could stand to come down a bit, and they have come down just a bit compared to 2013 (4.14 BB/9 vs 3.82 BB/9). But in countering that, his K/9 is up an entire K compared to 2013. Now, some of you may have never seen or heard any of these other stats, so I’ll go into them just a bit. xFIP is one of my favorite stats because it’s a better version of FIP, which is Fielding Independent Pitching. FIP is a way to quantify what a pitcher’s ERA would be based on only what the pitcher can control. Pitchers have very little control of what happens once the ball is put in play, but things like strikeouts, walks, HBPs and HR/FB ratio are very much in the control of the pitcher. xFIP is the next level of that, xFIP replaces home runs allowed with how many home runs they should have allowed, based on the league average HR/FB ratio. According to FanGraphs, an xFIP of 3.25 is great, and an xFIP of 3.75 is above average. With Wheeler firmly at 3.49, he’s right in the middle of great and above average. xFIP – is league and park adjusted, and is based on a scale with 100 being average. Each individual point below 100 is 1% better than the league average. So, xFIP- says Wheeler is a 6% better pitcher than league average. Of course, that league average is being made ridiculous with Kershaw’s pitching this year, but that will even out over time.
Let’s compare Wheeler’s 2013 stats to his 2014 stats:
Just by increasing his K/9 rate by 1 and by slightly decreasing his BB/9 rate, Wheeler has made his fWAR double. He went from being a pitcher 12% worse than league average, to a player 6% better than league average, good for an 18% improvement. An 18% improvement next year would give him a FIP of 2.77, which which would be 3rd in the NL this season. It’s crazy to say he would have another 18% improvement year to year, but even a hopeful estimate, at 5%, would put him at around 89, not too far behind a player like Adam Wainwright and his 87 xFIP- this season. Would you trade a pitcher that is that close to being on that level, for Starlin Castro? I hope not.