Everyone’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.