Thanks to a marked bounce back in his Spring Training performance, Steven Matz deservedly saved himself from a demotion to AAA. It did not hurt that Jason Vargas was hurt but it is hard to argue against his stats in his final Spring outings.
Zack Wheeler was not so lucky. Wheeler pitched 10.0 innings for the Mets this Spring and wound up with an ERA of 8.10 and an unsightly WHIP of 2.40 over 5 outings. So, what went wrong for him and how do the Mets fix it?
On the positive side, his power appeared to be intact. Wheeler fanned 14 batters in those 10.0 innings which equates to a robust 12.6 K/9. Likewise, it is hard to fault his control. Wheeler only walked 2 batters and boasted a 1.8 BB/9 this Spring. The problem came from his living so squarely in the strikezone, perhaps. Wheeler gave up a .431 batting line to opposing hitters.
Obviously, you cannot be a successful pitcher if you are making the opposing batters all look like Ted Williams and the Mets were right to send him to AAA but let us look deeper at the difficulties he faced. For instance, Wheeler struggled mightily against lefties, with an ERA and a Opp Avg far higher (13.50 and .530) than against righties (4.50 and .346). Yet those aren’t the most intriguing stats.
Take a look at the his numbers when pitching ahead in the count:
● IP: 5.0
● ERA: 1.80
● WHIP: 0.00
● Ks: 14
● BBs: 0
It should be pretty clear that Wheeler needs, desperately to throw strikes right away and that he needs the count in his favor to be effective.
In his Met career, Zack Wheeler has only pitched a total of 19 games in AAA. 6 of those games were back in 2012 before the Mets were run out of Buffalo. That being said, his 13 games in 2013’s Las Vegas rotation were quite good. He pitched 68.2 IP with an ERA under 4.00 in the PCL. He also struck out 73 and kept opposing hitters to a .236 Avg.
Frankly, these are the numbers that the Mets want to see from Zack before he comes back to Queens. Surprisingly, they even have the luxury of waiting for him to achieve that with so many of their arms healthy.
I, like others, have faith that Wheeler will find his groove and bounce back to being an effective major leaguer. It will be intriguing to watch his progress as minor league games begin.