Celebrating the last 12 starts of Zack Wheeler

Zack WheelerEveryone’s an expert (or critic) after the fact. That’s why preseason projections are such a nice thing to have. Before the season started, the official Mets360 projection for Zack Wheeler was for a 3.48 ERA and a 3.68 FIP. Currently, he has numbers that are almost perfectly reversed, as he sports a 3.64 ERA and a 3.47 FIP.

Essentially, he’s pitching just the way the average of the (then) 13 writers for the site thought he would do. We thought he would out-produce his FIP but the reality is that his FIP has been better. But it’s not like we predicted a 2.75 ERA and he has a 4.25 mark.

No one really objected in the comments section of the projection piece. One poster said, “The staff consensus seems to be optimistic but quite accurate.”

My question is: If no one objected to our preseason prediction and our preseason prediction is fairly close to what he’s produced so far in 2014 – why are so many people unhappy with Wheeler’s production?

We’ve seen two different Wheelers this season. Here are some numbers based on his first nine starts and what he’s done since:

First Nine – 49.2 IP, 4.89 ERA, 26 BB, 46 Ks
Last 12 – 71.1 IP, 2.78 ERA, 23 BB, 75 Ks

The guy who started the season wasn’t very good at all but the guy we’ve seen May 24th has been outstanding. Yet, there is no shortage of criticisms coming Wheeler’s way. You still hear things like:

He only does well against bad teams
He’ll never be good until he improves his command
He throws too many pitches and doesn’t go deep enough in games

He’s thrown a Quality Start in nine of his last 12 games, including tough environments/opponents like at Philadelphia, in Miami, at Atlanta and at Milwaukee. And when other starters were struggling in San Diego (Colon: 5 IP, 4 ER; Gee: 5 IP, 4 ER) Wheeler allowed just 1 ER in 6 IP and that came on a fluke HR.

As for his command, in his last 71.1 IP, he has a 2.90 BB/9 which is a strong rate, slightly better than All-Stars Yu Darvish (2.99) and Tyson Ross (2.96) and quite an improvement from last year’s 4.14 BB/9 in 100 innings in the majors.

Now, about too many pitches and going deep into games.

Some people still cling to the notion that a starter should throw complete games but most realize that is not the reality here in 2014. Obviously, the more innings you get from your starter, the better off things will be for the team. But it seems like a decent goal for a good SP to give you seven innings and to only require two innings from the bullpen. And Wheeler has only completed seven innings once this season.

While finishing seven has been a big problem for Wheeler, he has pitched into the seventh in eight of his last 12 games. Considering he did that just once in his first nine starts of the season, that seems like good progress. Wheeler is averaging 6 IP (5.9) per start in his last 12, which includes one game where he lasted 3.2 IP and another where he went just 2 IP.

Last night in the Game Chatter, we talked about the value of a starter going 6 IP and allowing just one run. Wheeler ended up allowing two runs – one earned – in 6.2 innings. Here in 2014, there have been 1,210 games where the starter pitched six or more innings and allowed two runs or fewer. In those 1,210 games, the starter received a decision in 869 games or 72% of the time. Additionally, the starter took home a win 84% of the time (730-139) when he received a decision.

Wheeler has met these requirements 11 times this season and is 5-0 with six no-decisions. The Mets as a team are 7-4 in those games. So, Wheeler is getting fewer decisions than we would expect in these games. MLB averages suggest he should be 7-1 in these 11 games and the Mets should be 8-3.

For me, the bottom line is that there’s not a huge difference between going 7 IP and 6.2 like Wheeler did last night. Would it be nice if he threw fewer pitches? Yes, yes it would. Has the production Wheeler given over his last 12 starts something to be excited about? Yes, yes it is. Should you be happy with the pitcher Wheeler is right now? Without a doubt, yes.

My advice would be to quit nit-picking everything he does. If he needs 25 pitches to get out of the first inning and still manages to pitch into the seventh and only gives up one run – that’s a start to appreciate, not one to criticize.

Wheeler has made tremendous progress this year. During the season, he’s cut down on his walks, he’s going deeper into games and he’s succeeding against good teams and in tough parks. The pitcher Wheeler has been in his last 12 games is exactly the guy we’re hoping to get over a full season for the next dozen or so years.

So, join me in celebrating a guy who averages over a strikeout per inning with a better than three-to-one strikeout/walk ratio. Enjoy the pitcher who has limited opponents to a .630 OPS with a .295 BABIP. Cheer for the guy with a 2.78 ERA and a 1.150 WHIP.

I feel sorry for those of you who only see negative while watching Wheeler pitch the past 12 starts.

29 comments for “Celebrating the last 12 starts of Zack Wheeler

  1. Stephen
    July 26, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    #Wheelerissoft

  2. Chris F
    July 26, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    The change is a plus, and to me a surprise, and a welcome one at that. I think this increases his trade value. Having said that, I also appreciate he seems to be maturing in his interviews as well. Perhaps he has hit a confidence threshold that is extending through his whole game. Surely he realized that if the start of the season defined him, trouble was on the horizon. I’m patiently waiting to see more.

  3. NormE
    July 26, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    A good article, Brian.
    I think that too many expected Wheeler to replicate Harvey. Each develops at his own pace. The hype distracts common sense. I’m waiting for Thor to reach NY, hopefully in 2015. We’ll probably see the same foolish hype at that point.
    Even Sandy Koufax needed time before he became Sandy Koufax. Not everyone is Tom Terrific or Doc

  4. Patrick Albanesius
    July 26, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Thank you, Brian. Thank you.

  5. Scott Ferguson
    July 26, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    Wheeler has ace stuff. It’s great to see him starting to put it together. Hopefully he keeps it up

  6. Eraff
    July 26, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    His start last night stood out as his best outing to date—he was generally in control, and he covered/Squashed a good deal of mistakes behind him. He was over powering with his mix and location…and the full force of his talent was impressive. He pitched with focus, despite a lack of both Offensive and defensive support—that’s a heavy dose of “Top Rotation” from a guy who can be a very big pitcher.

  7. Metsense
    July 26, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    There have been 76 starting National League pitchers that have pitched 50 innings. Those 76 pitchers are Wheeler’s peers. Wheeler ranks 37th in ERA and 31st in FIP. This indicates that Wheeler is a solid #3 pitcher in 2014 in only in his second season. The future looks bright and I enjoy his pitching. A very positive and upbeat article for a deserving player.

  8. Name
    July 27, 2014 at 1:04 am

    Just to balance things out, here are some the stuff i look at

    2014 Stats without Miami: 4.50 ERA
    Last 12 starts without Miami: 3.38 ERA

    2014 against teams .500 or less: 2.04 ERA
    2014 against teams .500+ : 6.26 ERA

    Career against teams .500 or less: 2.52 ERA
    Career against teams .500+ : 4.80 ERA

    # of .500 or less teams faced in the last 12 games: 9 out of 12

    Average IP/Start in 2014 : 5.76
    Average IP/Start over last 12 games: 5.91
    Rank of IP/Start among NL pitchers with at least 50 innings: 60 out of 76 (He’s behind Brian’s favorite whipping boy: Dan Haren)
    Average NL IP/Start : 5.99 (and this includes starts where the SP gets taken out due to injury such as Disucky’s 1 inning start)

    # of times of at least 7 IP : 1 of 21

    Pitches per inning : 17.5 (dead last in NL among qualified)
    Pitcher per PA : 4.11 (dead last in NL among qualified)

    Also, there’s no stat on this, but i’ve bet Wheeler’s been bailed out by the opposing pitcher have to face him more than any other pitcher. Just last week in San Diego, he had the fortune of facing the SP with runners at 1st and 3rd three times in one game.

    Difference between 6.2 and 7 is huge. The fact that he has so many 6.2′s means that he often needs someone else to bail him out at the end. Going 7 instead of 6.2 over a season translates to almost 10 extra innings and 30 less reliever changes.

    To me, Zack Wheeler is the Scott Rice of SP. Even on his best run, he can’t get to an average of 6 innings. If he was forced to pitch an “average” starting pitcher’s workload, we would expect his overall stats to go down some, and even more if here were to pitch a #1/2′s workload.

    • Chris F
      July 27, 2014 at 1:52 am

      Thanks for putting that all together Name. I was concerned he pitched better to bad teams, and this confirmed it. His pitch count places a higher load on the pen as well. As the pen has improved, this no doubt masks the load. This year he has had 12 starts that ended at 6+ or less innings. The team lost 9 of those 12 starts. By comparison Darvish has only 7 games of 6+, and again there is a strong correlation with a team loss. However, Darvish also has 10 starts with 7+ or more IP (6 of 8+ IP), 9 of which resulted in team wins. Wheeler has only 1, also resulting in a win. This starts to determine how critical team success is when the starter can pitch into the 7th and beyond. Until his control improves and his pitches per inning drops allowing him to go further, he will force a lot of bull pen use, and more involvement of TC pulling trigger on the relief pitchers.

    • July 27, 2014 at 8:38 am

      I see no point in crucifying a guy for pitching well against a team in our division. He will continue to get multiple starts against the Marlins for the rest of the time he’s with the Mets. If anything, I would use this knowledge to tinker with the rotation to make sure he pitched against them in every series we play.

      He’s absolutely dominating teams below .500 — that’s a good thing. As he matures, I would expect his numbers against teams above .500 to move in that direction, even if not particularly close to this extent.

      Wheeler has improved during the year in any metric you want to look at — including IP. And the difference between asking the bullpen to go 2.1 instead of 2.0 does not have to be 33 extra pitching changes if your manager doesn’t insist on one-out performances. That’s an issue much more with TC than with Wheeler. He can ask Carlos Torres to go 3 IP after he pitched the night before but he can’t ask Jeurys Familia or Josh Edgin to go 1.1 IP when he hasn’t pitched in three days?

      The bottom line is that Wheeler right now is pitching great. Everyone’s favorite guy right now is Jacob deGrom and in his last 12 games, he has a 3.18 ERA in 73.2 IP. If you think the extra 2.1 IP is so much more valuable than the .40 edge in ERA — I don’t know what to say.

      • Jerry Grote
        July 27, 2014 at 10:14 am

        Wheeler’s averaged 4 BB/9 for his entire career – and there really hasn’t been much variance to that ultimately. For the stretch you mention, he dropped that to 2.91.

        JDG averaged less than 2.5 BB/9 in the minors. Since he’s been in the majors its 3.2.

        My reason to be overjoyed at JDG is that he has been able to translate control at the minor league level to the major league level.

        It’s fine to believe that Wheeler has done the same, but you are enlisting hopium at this point. I can’t say how many young players are able to increase a core productivity by such a large degree – and maintain that improvement – but I have to believe it is incredibly small.

        • July 27, 2014 at 10:41 am

          I’m thrilled with the production that JDG has given the Mets. The production over the last 12 games for Wheeler has been virtually identical.

          If you want to say that historical walk rates indicate that JDG is more likely to carry similar pitching forward — that’s fine.

          However, I disagree that Wheeler has always been around 4 with his walk rate. Last year in Triple-A he had a 3.54 and the year before that in Double-A he had a 3.34 walk rate. Considering that when the Mets acquired him, his BB/9 was 4.81 — I’d say he’s already made significant improvement.

          My opinion is that an MLB walk rate in the low 3′s over an entire season is only a matter of time for Wheeler. At this point it’s just an opinion.

      • Name
        July 27, 2014 at 8:21 pm

        So it would help me a lot of i knew exactly what you are celebrating.

        Is it because Wheeler’s hitting his preseason projections?
        I don’t really see it because while he’s hitting a few marks such as FIP, K/9, and BB/9, he’s also falling short on the 7+, IP, ERA category. I see no reason to celebrate what’s been a mixed bag.

        Is it because he’s better than last year?
        It’s also a mixed bag and don’t see any overwhelming reason to celebrate.

        Is it because he’s improved from the beginning of the year?
        I guess, but he was really bad at the beginning of the year, so improvement was a mandated. This is a pretty minor milestone in itself and would hardly qualify for a celebration in my eyes

        Is it because of his performance in the last 12 starts?
        Ah, I may be getting closer to the party.

        So Is it because he’s been a good SP over his last 12 starts?
        I would never celebrate Scott Rice as a good relief pitcher even if he had a 0.00 ERA if all he could do was get 1 lefty out a night. So i’m not going to celebrate Zack Wheeler as a good SP even if he has a mid 2 ERA over his last 12 if he can’t get to the average of 6 innings per start.
        If he were forced to go the average distance, i would expect to his overall stats to suffer. Or, if you wanted to look at it from the other side: If you could shave off 2.1 IP from deGrom’s stretch of starts, i would expect them to be better than Wheeler’s

        If we didn’t cherry pick Wheeler’s best stretch and instead used deGrom’s overall time in MLB (including today), deGrom would be outperforming Wheeler by 5.1 innings and 0.74 in ERA.

    • Jerry Grote
      July 27, 2014 at 8:44 am

      I’ ve got a string of issues here:
      *First, whether or not Miami has a .500 winning percentage is useless. The only thing of importance in pitching against Miami is whether or not that team *hits well*. They are the 5th best run scoring offense in the NL and have been higher than that most of the year. It is a *plus*, not a minus, to be so good.

      Likewise, in 2013 do you know who had the 4th best offence? The Atlanta Braves. 2013, Wheeler was 3-0 with a 2.89 ERA.

      Easily you can make the case that Wheeler elevates his game against really good scoring offenses. A pitcher’s record against .500 winning teams is one of the most irrelevant things I can imagine – because teams can win with great pitching, great hitting or fielding or any combination.

      *Second, you are really dealing with incredibly small sample sizes of his effectiveness against any individual team right now. He’s faced Stanton 15 times (OPS 350), and I’d say that beating Stanton would be the primary point to beating the Marlins. Anyone want to suggest that doesn’t normalize just a little bit?

      Opposite of that coin? Heyward and Freeman have a total of 35 ABs with an obscene slugging percentage. Do you suppose that Wheeler will continue to put up .800 SLGs against those two into the future?

      Instead, I’ll contend that the longer waves in Wheeler’s career remain intact: even this 12 game swing (if you want to look at it that way) can be put into context that this is St. Lucie following San Jose.

      Wheeler himself acknowledged the importance of consistency after his last start. Innings pitched/game, pitches thrown per 9, bb/9 – every single one of these is different way to look at a slice out of the same pie.

      He can’t put together a consistent run of controlling where the ball is going. Arguing that he is “young” really is irrelevant. Control, to me at least, is the single most important determinant in a pitcher’s toolbox and especially in a young pitcher’s abilities.

      Here is hoping that the 12 game run continues forward. Unlike Brian, I don’t think any of us really was looking at comparing him to Yu Darvish or Matt Harvey. But we were certainly hoping for more than league average and *that is what he is*.

      That is a disappointment.

      Editor’s Note – Please do not use capital words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

      • July 27, 2014 at 10:23 am

        It takes a tremendous leap to think that comparing the walk rate of Wheeler to Darvish and Ross means anything other than comparing their walk rates.

        • Jerry Grote
          July 27, 2014 at 10:33 am

          ? I’m not comparing Wheeler other than to every other pitcher in the NL. He is league average by almost every statistic, and that’s even with the last 12 game stretch Brian.

          I just did an export to Excel on pitchers in the NL this year. There are 75 pitchers in the league, age 25 or younger right now. Exactly one third were able to outperform the league average of 2.9.

          Wheeler reached that number at the apex of his abilities to this piont in his career, but overall of course he’s far above that.

          Side note: of the top 25 names, 7 were controlled by the Marlins for the foreseeable future.

          • July 27, 2014 at 11:00 am

            You said:

            “Unlike Brian, I don’t think any of us really was looking at comparing him to Yu Darvish”

            The only thing I meant is what I explicitly said — that his rate over his last 12 games was strong and better than two current All-Star pitchers. Nothing else should be read into what I originally wrote.

  9. eraff
    July 27, 2014 at 3:01 am

    Chris and Name…. the guy is 24. The stats you’ve provided show exactly what the article suggests—Wheeler’s been very good over the past 12 starts…and last night was a really solid Big Pitcher outing.

    He’s not Matt Harvey…and is he a failure if he’s also not Hu Darvish?

    He’s competitive…he’s improving…he’s been very good. I think he’;s probably going to be Zach Wheeler at some point soon—the guy who took his bumps like most young pitchers…and a really good front/mid rotation pitcher…. Maybe even more!

  10. Chris F
    July 27, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Any improvement Wheeler shows is plus. It’s been my feeling all along his numbers are simply wildly split whether it be by teams he punishes (Marlins, Braves) or the quality of opponent. If he faces a cowbell team, and he wins as it is clear he does, then I want those wins, and I don’t mean his W-L, bur team record. Face a bad team and we walk away with a win, that’s what we expect and need…from Wheeler and every other player. He can’t be punished for that. Right now it is hard to project how he will evolve against better teams, but make no mistake that is exactly what he has to do. When the day comes for October baseball, the teams he will be pitching against won’t have <.500 records. As for DeGrom, he already has 5 games with 7+ IP, the Mets won 4 and the loss was 1-0 travesty against the Yankees. The Mets have lost all of his 6+ or less IP starts. The team has lost 2 of 3 DeGrom starts when he pitches 6.1 one or 6.2 IP. Again, the difference of going 7.0 or more is huge in dictation whether the Mets win, regardless of his personal record. If Wheeler improves his control and can make the 7th on a regular basis, I expect he can be a solid pitcher, the one we need him to be if the Mets have playoff hopes. In the mean time, I have no issue making him available for trades if he can bring back critical elements the team needs, particularly at SS or some outfield thunder.

    • Chris F
      July 27, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      Note 7+ actually meant to be 7.0, and 6+ meant to be 6.0. Apologies for the confusion.

  11. Eraff
    July 27, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Max Scherzer Statline
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/scherma01.shtml

    His first thirty or so starts look alot like Wheeler—and he profiles as a similar high draft/high cieling pitcher.

    It’s a long way from AA/AAA to Wheeler’s stage—and it’s a bit of distance to elevate his game similar to what Scherzer has done.

    This is what “even really nice” young pitchers look like…gennerally. They don’t look loke Matt Harveys, Stephen Strasburg and Dwight Gooden—they look like Zach Wheeler—and sometimes, They “become” Max Scherzer.

  12. Julian
    July 28, 2014 at 7:46 am

    Thank you for saying this! I have always been extremely supportive of this hard-throwing righty. He has looked so much more poised and much more confident. Even though he has struggled at times, he struggled mightily against the best team in baseball (2IP against Oakland A’s). This guy, I believe, has the potential to be better than Harvey because his erratic ways could help him actually limit hits with an average walk rate.

  13. Eraff
    July 28, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    He’s similar to Scherzer at a similar point. What that actually points to is the Fact that most Young pitchers do not have an immediate, consistent, overpowering experience. The Gooden, Valenzuela, Seaver, Vida Blue, Strassburg, Harvey, Feller—these are Exceptions!!!

    The fact that Wheeler has been competitive as a 23/24 year old with Great Stuff and a recent sustained run….. it provides evidence of ability with both his arm and his brain.

    Don’t compare him to Harvey’s performance…or Hu Darvish— if he performs exactly as he has over his last 12 starts, with some assumption that he can clean up some more of the command, he’ll be a very nice 2/3 starter. The rest of anything more he does will depend on him, and how it plays out.

    Comparing Wheeler to the best Pitchers is a benchmark that he would need to earn with more performance. Projecting him to that point is Hasty…. trashing him because he’s not at that point is just really baffling, because there’s a great deal of need for really good pitchers…even pitchers who are not Cy Young winners or Hall of Fame level guys.

    • Eraff
      July 28, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      BTW—last week the Mets “saw” Taijuan Walker, the Young Pitcher of the Mariners. He’s the #5 rated prospect in Baseball. He’s rated ahead of every other Pitching Prospect in Baseball…here are his stats..

      http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/w/walketa01.shtml

      Take a look at the BB/9ip….and everything—he’s not a star yet—he’s 22….so , He’s a Young Pitcher–this is what they look like!!!

      • Eraff
        July 28, 2014 at 12:16 pm

        His start against the Mets: 5 ip….5 k, 6 bb…94 pitches… Talented Young Pitcher

    • Name
      July 28, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      Scherzer through his first 2 seasons:
      37 games started, 9 relief appearances, 226.1 IP, 117 ERA+, 9.5 k/9, 3.3 bb/9
      Even if you take out his relief outings, his ERA+ is still at least 100, his walk rate is the same and his k/9 is actually even higher.

      Meanwhile, Wheeler so far
      38 games started, 221 IP, 100 ERA+, 8.3 k/9, 3.9 bb/9.

      How are they similar?

      • Eraff
        July 28, 2014 at 5:00 pm

        The guy has a 3.54 Era over 35 plus starts—as a 23/24 year old pitcher. From that, I also see some possible upside.

        What exactly do You dislike!!!!?????….other than the fact that he’s not as good as Harvery and Hu Darvish.

        Tell ya what….if he’s going to continue to do Exactly That, I’ll be fine with it!!!

        • Name
          July 28, 2014 at 7:54 pm

          Ok you see upside. Fine. But you shouldn’t make comparisons that don’t make any sense.

          I blame SNY for putting up that crappy graphic comparing Wheeler with Scherzer, Felix, and other top pitchers. Use ERA+ instead of ERA and you get a completely different story.

          • Eraff
            July 28, 2014 at 9:53 pm

            OK—-so, your responses are not Satire. I was hoping you were using humor to make a point about a subject you understand.

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