As the old baseball saying goes, “Sometimes the best deals are the deals you don’t make,” and that seems to be the case with the Mets and Zack Wheeler. As the July 31 trade deadline approached this year, rumors were flying that the suddenly effective starting pitcher could be had in a trade. Reports showed interest from many contending clubs, including the Yankees, Brewers and Phillies. Speculation was the Mets could receive a pretty good prospect in exchange for him. However the deadline came and went, and Wheeler is still a Met. Most of us are quite happy that is the case.
Wheeler started off the year cold, and then he had a terrible May with a 6.43 ERA for the month. This of course was at the time when it became apparent the Mets’ season was in the process of falling off the rails. He then began pitching much better, his ERA for the month of June was 3.26, and in July he had a 3.13 figure with a 3-0 record.
However he has really sizzled since the trade deadline expired, in August he has had two starts of seven innings each, and both were wins. His ERA for the month is 1.29, and batters are only hitting .143 against him so far this month.
So it seems that things started to click for Wheeler by June, and he has only continued to improve. He’s throwing the ball hard (Fangraphs posts his fastball velocity at 96.3 MPH) with excellent control. For August he has racked up 17 strikeouts with only two bases on balls.
It was probably not just one change that lead to his dramatic improvement, there were likely several factors. The pitching brain trust of manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland surely had some impact on the improvement of Wheeler by tweaking his mechanics.
Wheeler missed 2015 and 2016 due to Tommy John surgery on his elbow, then much of 2017 was lost to a different arm injury. A combination of lingering arm woes and rust may have been a factor in Wheelers’ slow start this year.
In May the Mets acquired veteran catcher Devin Mesoraco from the Reds. Most of the pitching staff, including Wheeler, seems to like working with Mesoraco. His experience and pitch calling may well have been a small factor in Wheelers’ rebound.
Finally Wheeler may have improved his focus. As is often said about athletic success, mental toughness plays a big role. All these factors combined have made Wheeler pitch like an ace, not like a back of the rotation starter.
Starting pitching is clearly the teams’ strength, perhaps for the next few years, and Wheeler could play a big role. The front office is to be commended for holding on to Wheeler, who still has a year of team control. Perhaps management should consider offering him a contract that would lock him up for several more years.