Zack Wheeler and the looming pitching realignment

Two Met starting pitchers, Steven Matz and Seth Lugo, are due to come off the DL this upcoming weekend. Manager Terry Collins has said both will be inserted into the starting rotation, which will mean changes in roles for other pitchers on the staff.

Some reports indicate that Robert Gsellman could be shifted to a relief role, possibly as closer until Jeurys Familia returns, if he does this year. The current closer Addison Reed could then revert to his more familiar eighth inning setup role.

This realignment could well work for the Mets, but there is another approach that might work even better. Specifically, we could leave Gsellman in his starter role and shift Zack Wheeler into the closer spot.

Wheeler, coming off two lost seasons due to surgery, is under an innings limit of around 125 innings this season. As of early June he has already pitched 55 innings, so at this pace he will be at his innings limit some time in August, if he remains as a starter. However if Wheeler is used in one or occasionally two inning save situations, he will accumulate less innings and thus be available for much more of the season. If Familia does return later this season, then Wheeler could be put back in the starting rotation when inevitably another starter is injured or ineffective.

Wheeler has an ERA of 3.72 so far this year, while Gsellman has a high 5.53 ERA. Of late Gsellman has pitched much better, in his last two starts he has logged a 2.19 ERA. It might be wise to let the young pitcher continue as a starter since he seems to be getting comfortable there.

Most managers like a late inning relief pitcher who can throw the high hard one, and Wheeler has been averaging 94.6 mph on his four-seam fastball this season, according to Fangraphs. Figuring starting pitchers have to pace themselves to a certain extent, in a one or two inning role out of the bullpen Wheeler could likely get even more velocity than he has shown in the starting role.

Wheeler has little experience in pitching relief. One problem might be adjustment to the shorter warm-up time relievers receive. However as a closer he would generally come into an inning clean as opposed to coming in with runners on base from a previous pitcher. As a closer he would likely be able to get plenty of warm-up time knowing he was going to come in in the ninth inning.

The bottom line is that the return of Lugo and Matz will necessitate changes in the pitching alignment. The switch of Wheeler to the closer role, at least temporarily, could have the benefit of not only bolstering the late inning relief corps but would also make Wheeler available for more of the season because of the club-imposed inning limit hanging over him.

10 comments for “Zack Wheeler and the looming pitching realignment

  1. Jimmy P
    June 7, 2017 at 9:12 am

    The downside — which is very real — is that coming off such a serious injury, an unpredictable role in the pen could be dangerous. Mets need to tread very, very carefully here. He’s pretty much the big success story of the season; one of the few things that have gone right. Conforto, of course, too.

    The other question we’ll have to determine: Is this season worth the risk?

    • NormE
      June 7, 2017 at 10:36 am

      I agree with Jimmy P on the danger to Wheeler’s arm as a relief pitcher. In addition, I am not sold on Wheeler’s command of the strike zone. He still throws too many pitches. I certainly would not want to call on him in the middle of an inning with men on base.
      Another thought—There is talk of Wheeler or Gsellman to the pen. Why not Harvey? Of course the same danger we noted with Wheeler is there with Matt. But, why is it that no one seems to be thinking of such a move? I’m not advocating it, but just wondering.

      • Jimmy P
        June 7, 2017 at 10:52 am

        To be clear: I love the idea of Wheeler in the pen, just worry that his arm might not be rubbery enough.

        I love the idea of a great bullpen. A goal with pursuing. I think it’s necessary in today’s baseball.

        But to what end for these 2017 Mets?

      • John Fox
        June 7, 2017 at 12:39 pm

        Interesting thought on Harvey, Norm, since we have more starters than we need and not enough relievers. That’s thinking outside the box, or should I say that’s thinking outside the rubber?

        • Chris F
          June 7, 2017 at 1:55 pm

          “…we have more starters than we need…”

          Are you actually referring to the Mets? Because, quite frankly I would never have said the Mets have more starters than we need.

    • Matt Netter
      June 8, 2017 at 12:06 pm

      Excellent point, Jimmy P. I’d sooner move to a 6-man rotation than put guys like Wheeler and Lugo in uncertain roles.

  2. June 7, 2017 at 11:12 am

    Haven’t they said Wheeler won’t pitch in relief despite their intentions to cap his innings? I recall the logic made my brain hurt.

  3. Pete In Iowa
    June 7, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    I don’t buy Wheeler as a closer — or a reliever of any kind for that matter.
    Too much nibbling, too many walks.
    If such a shake up is coming, I think Gsellman is a better choice. Not as much nibbling and lots of grounders.

    • Jimmy P
      June 7, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      A valid perspective.

      Gsellman, btw, is already slated for the pen.

      Gsellman does walk fewer than Wheeler (3.0 vs 3.8 per 9 ip), and has a slightly higher walk rate. That said, Wheeler strikes out more batters and give up a lot less hits.

      To prefer Gsellman over Wheeler, you kind of have to ignore the “hit” issue.

      They say that when coming back from TJ surgery, that control is the last thing to return. My hope is that Zack’s improves and makes a jump forward next season. I’ve always compared him to young Ron Darling, who also walked far too many batters in his early seasons.

      • Jimmy P
        June 8, 2017 at 8:01 am

        Sorry, meant “groundball rate” above.

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