Zack Wheeler is becoming an ace

Zack WheelerThe Mets starting rotation has been solid this season, featuring Bartolo Colon, Jacob deGrom, Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, and Zack Wheeler. In a rotation featuring pitchers with ERAs below 4.00, there has been a consistency of good starting pitching throughout the season. Although pitchers experiencing streaks may be common, Wheeler is turning a corner late in the season, and is finding success with each start. Expectations are beginning to be met, as his past couples of outings have been strong, with the Mets winning six of his last nine starts.

Early in the season, Wheeler would have one or two solid outings mixed in with a bad outing, leaving fans wondering when he would settle into a groove of dominating consecutive games. It seems the regularity of quality starts occurred when John Smoltz gave the Mets righty some words of encouragement, which Ken Davidoff of the New York Post reported. The words Smoltz spoke must pumped up Wheeler as the starts that have followed have been exciting to watch.

Over his last nine starts, Wheeler has gone 5-0 and has had quality starts in each outing. The stuff factor is there too, as he has struck out 54 batters in 58 innings. With solid outings against playoff contending teams such as Milwaukee and Washington, Wheeler can perform well against great lineups.

With Matt Harvey on the disabled list, the Mets were without a “true ace”, and hoped their young staff would mature and improve upon last season. Wheeler is improving and is beginning to step into the ace role. There are areas Wheeler must improve on, as walks have been his weakness throughout his career. Enabling 25 base runners via base on balls in his last nine starts is troubling, and the unfortunate result of walking so many hitters is that Wheeler has not finished seven innings throughout his recent streak. Even in his most recent start against the Cubs, his ten strikeouts and four walks had Wheeler finishing the game with 120 pitches while leaving with two outs in the 7th inning. Granted it was a 3-2 game, but with his fastball reaching 96 MPH and his slider that made the Cubs look silly, it would have been nice to see him finish the 7th inning.

Before this season, it seemed that there were debates among fans about whether or not it would be smart for the Mets to trade Wheeler for a slugger, and many people seemed willing to deal the right-hander. At age 24, there are bound to be growing pains along the way, but with this recent hot streak, skeptics are going to become believers, as the future looks a lot brighter with Wheeler pitching in either the second or third spot in the rotation.

Ideally, the rest of the season would feature Wheeler continue doing what he has been doing, and that is finishing or pitching past the 6th inning, while continuing to put up zeros throughout his starts. Even though this is Wheeler’s first full season of pitching in the major leagues, it has been a productive one, and hopefully he will continue to gain experience and success each remaining start.

18 comments for “Zack Wheeler is becoming an ace

  1. Rob
    August 17, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    It looks like we now have our 5 quality starters for the rest of this year. Today, Montereo throws 7.2 innings of one run ball and had less then 7 base runners. Also had a flock of strike outs. Going into 2015, we add in Harvey and that may give us seven. Add in Syndegard and that is a heck of a starting staff. I hope the following is our starting 5.

    1. Harvey
    2. Wheeler
    3. DeGrom
    4. your pick of Colon,Niese or Gee
    5. Montereo

    Add in Thor later in the summer, Awesome……………..

    • James Newman
      August 18, 2014 at 10:15 am

      Great point Rob. There is a surplus of pitching, which is always a good thing. Throughout the offseason, I believe the Mets are going to trade some of their pitching away in order to acquire a bat. I doubt Alderson trades Harvey, Syndergaard or Wheeler. deGrom may be added to those three as well. Also in 2015, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Matz getting called up, which adds to the list of quality arms the organization has.

  2. eraff
    August 17, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    I believe they should “invest” more starts in Montero…..that may mean a 6 man rotation, or WEaiting til 2015 for Syndergaard, but I believe Montero’s next step is at the MLB level….Now.

    My big preference would be a trade of Colon for good future value and salary relief in ’15.

    Montero showed good command of his changeup today, and a dramatic improvement and use of his slider— grated, against a young, “swinging” lineup. Still…he looked really good and that should make them “force him” to show it again over a series of starts.

    • James Newman
      August 18, 2014 at 10:18 am

      Montero looked like a quality pitcher, and I think he’s shown everything there is to show at AAA, meaning he should be in the MLB. Hopefully they keep him up after deGrom comes back.

      I would like to see Colon get a nice return too, but it doesn’t look like there is much of a market for him.

    • August 18, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      If they don’t give him some MLB starts now, then I don’t know what they’re waiting for. It’s garbage time in Queens and the kid is excelling in the minors. The Cubs could have been good for his nerves and maybe, just maybe, he’ll settle down and show us his real abilities.

  3. Chris F
    August 17, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    Ace? like in Scherzer? Kershaw? King Felix? Wainwright? Price?

    Sorry, a guy that cant pitch 7 innings isnt an ace by any measure. Im happy he has gotten results, but conflating his recent results with ace status is a big mistake imo.

    • eraff
      August 17, 2014 at 9:48 pm

      OK, so the headline is a bit of “Grade Inflation”…. Wheeler is learning and producing. He’s becoming a pretty nice pitcher. Next step, hopefully, is some efficiency and added innings.

    • James Newman
      August 18, 2014 at 10:21 am

      Wheeler is not by any means on the level of Scherzer, Kershaw, Felix, Wainwright or Price, but he is becoming a quality pitcher. I think there are 1As of the league (which are the pitchers you’re talking about), and 1B’s (pitchers who are still aces but maybe not at the top of the list). I think Wheeler is slowly becoming a 1B, but yes, he still is far away from becoming on the level of the top guys you mentioned.

  4. Frankie
    August 17, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    The rotation is the Mets strength, and I believe the bullpen is one piece of nasty lefty away from fearsome. As the word fragile and pitchers are two words that all MLB teams have to be aware. Having that list is nice. I think Thor will not be a Mets next season. He and Colon both probably be traded to teams that would offer a quality bat for the Mets.

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

  5. Jerry Grote
    August 17, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Wheeler has improved to the point where his ERA+ is above league average. Nice.

    Ace? Well, while he is in the game, lately he’s been an upper tier pitcher. Not an ace because at the end of the day, Chris F is right … and ace gets you through the 7th and occasionally spots you a CG.

  6. Name
    August 17, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    I don’t buy this hot streak one bit and here’s why.

    First 16: 9.2 k/9, 3.74 BB/9, 0.61 HR/9, 17.56 pitches per inning
    Last 9: 8.37 k/9, 3.89 BB/9, 0.78 HR/9, 17.33 pitches per inning

    He’s regressed in the 3 major categories.

    The main reason he’s gotten better results? BABIP

    First 16: .250 Opponent BA, .328 BABIP
    Last 9: .219 Opponent BA, .268 BABIP

    If another major league GM wants to trade for him like an ace, i’d sell high and pull the trigger in a heartbeat.

    • Jerry Grote
      August 18, 2014 at 8:23 am

      He’s not missing any more bats (k/9), but the opposition is not effectively putting the ball into play (BA/BABIP). His % of fastballs he’s throwing for strikes has gone up (and, he’s throwing the ball faster by nearly 1 MPH), and he’s throwing the FB less (about 10% less)

      Hitters know they are going to get rung up on heat (swinging strikes up 10%), don’t want that to happen, and are reaching for a bunch of breaking stuff outside the zone – which Wheeler still hasn’t been able to control (BB/9).

      Part of the transition from thrower to pitcher is to complete this cycle and you are watching it right now.

      If he completes the control of the breaking ball, you definitively have the cusp of Kershaw.

      • Name
        August 18, 2014 at 9:35 am

        His strike percentage has gone up less than 1% from 61.5% to 62.1%, which is basically a negligible difference.
        His fastball has increased 1 mph, which is significant and probably a good reason why he is getting more swing and misses and less effective contact.
        Not sure where you got his FB%, but Fangraphs has him at 62.7% for his first 16 and 61.7% for his last 9, which is only a 1% difference, also negligible.

        Fangraphs also has hitters swinging at basically the same number of pitches all year both in and out of the zone (all within 1%). However, he is getting a reduction in contact rate, which is likely due to his increased fastball velocity, and as a result swinging strikes are up from 9.3 to 10.8, which is 15%, but it isn’t translating into more strikeouts.

        Pretty much everything about Wheeler has remained the same the entire year, except for the fact that he’s throwing his fastball harder and he’s getting luckier on balls in play. Despite the better fastball, he is still a guy who labors the majority of the time and struggles mightily with efficiency. In the long run, that extra labor may take its toll on him.
        He’s probably a guy who is going to be around league average in ERA+, maybe a tick better. He’s never going to give you a lot of innings per start, but he’ll be pretty reliable at getting you 6-6.2 around 70% of the time, get you less than 6 20% of the time and 7+ 10% of the time, but you’ll need a manager willing to let him go 110-120 routinely when 100 is considered the norm these days.

        I look at those numbers and i see a middle of the rotation guy, a #3. If someone wants to trade for him like he’s close to a #1 or take on the risk that he’ll make that jump, i’d do it in a heartbeat.

    • James Newman
      August 18, 2014 at 10:24 am

      I don’t mind seeing a regression in K/9, because if he’s pitching to contact, that’s going to happen. The disappointing points are definitely the walks and pitches per inning. He has to be able to pitch longer into the game, and finishing the sixth and continuing past the inning with regularity is a nice stepping stone.

      I’m not too sure I’d be willing to trade him, but as other readers have stated, there is a surplus of pitching, and someone may be the odd man out.

  7. Steevy
    August 18, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Newman!( somebody had to do it)

    • James Newman
      August 18, 2014 at 10:24 am

      Haha, thanks for the read and comment Steevy, made me laugh!

  8. Eraff
    August 18, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Really good points here, most especially by Name. There’s a strong statistical case for “luck”, but I have an argument against that—his last start, and what I saw when watching him pitch.

    The Majority of his strikeouts were Professional Takeuts—several unhittable, Pitcher Count Sliders that were out of the contact zone, and a a few well placed up the ladder and low paint 97′s… aggressive Pitcher Count Executions— I had not seen as much of that before.

    Whether it’s purely concentration or just some unwieldy mechanics, he will Skip and Lose some ab’s, right in the middle of being a really nice pitcher. That’s were he’s gaining Pitch count and exposing himself to runners (elevating his whip).

    The most hopefull thing is that he’s very uneven, but he’s showing some signs that he’s pitching smarter. The hitters are really not the problem for him.

    That said—he certainly looks like a Mid Rotation starter or better– and that makes him on hell of a 24 year old pitcher.

  9. Patrick Albanesius
    August 18, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    I’ll take a 24 year-old pitcher who can throw 97 mph, who is dramatically improving as a pitcher in only his first full year any day of the week. Pitching to contact and less strikeouts, even if these are small improvements, will carry over the long haul.

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