If you asked anyone who watched baseball in 2018 – fan, player, executive – who the best pitcher on the Mets was last year, the unanimous answer would be Jacob deGrom. And this is how it should be. In his five years in the majors, deGrom has won the Rookie of the Year, has two All-Star game appearances and three times has finished in the top 10 in the CY Award voting, including a win in last year’s race.

In the second half of 2018, deGrom was masterful, as he put up a 1.73 ERA and a 0.833 WHIP. However, that wasn’t the best mark on the Mets. In the same time frame, Zack Wheeler put up a 1.68 ERA and a 0.813 WHIP. To be crystal clear, 11 games and 75 IP does not put Wheeler at deGrom’s level. Instead, this is merely a reminder that for an extended period in 2018, Wheeler was awesome.

You can break down Wheeler’s 2018 into four segments of nearly identical length of seven or eight starts.

First seven –– 5.92 ERA, 1.553 WHIP
Second seven – 3.92 ERA, 1.214 WHIP
Third seven — 2.17 ERA, 1.029 WHIP
Final eight — 1.96 ERA, 0.836 WHIP

One of the wonderful thing about deGrom’s 2018 was that he didn’t have any terrible outings. His worst start came in his third game of the year, when he allowed 4 ER in 6 IP. Contrast that with 2017, when deGrom had three starts where combined he allowed 21 ER in 11.2 IP for a 16.20 ERA. We see something similar with Wheeler in 2018. In three combined starts, he allowed 20 ER in 15.2 IP for an 11.49 ERA.

In 2017, despite those three dismal outings, deGrom had a 3.53 ERA and a 1.187 WHIP. Last year, Wheeler had a 3.31 ERA and a 1.124 WHIP. Because of the difference in run environments, it was a better year for deGrom, who had a 117 ERA+, compared to the 111 ERA+ Wheeler posted last year. Still, it’s another comparison to deGrom where Wheeler holds his own.

Two of those bad Wheeler outings came in the first seven games of the year while the third one came in the second batch. And that second batch also included a game where the bullpen provided no relief and one where a botched call by an umpire led to runs scoring. Most all pitchers have games like that. When they happened to Wheeler, they were in the second batch of games and helped obscure how well he was pitching. The conventional wisdom is that Wheeler finished the 2018 season strong but my take is that he pitched better for a longer stretch than that.

It’s good to have players who intelligent people can rationally disagree on their value. We’ve seen countless arguments about players like Bartolo Colon and Juan Lagares where opinion was divided. Wheeler is one of these guys, too. Some still see the guy who nibbled and ran high pitch counts and was borderline unwatchable. Others see the guy who gave the Mets a 2.86 ERA over his final 24 starts of the year and opine that he’s finally crossed the Rubicon.

Let’s see what the computer models forecast. There’s a new one this week on FanGraphs – Ariel Cohen’s ATC. I know of neither Cohen nor his projections but it’s nice to have another source to view.

ATC: 11-9, 170 IP, 3.73 ERA, 169 Ks, 58 BB, 19 HR
THE BAT: 11-10, 171 IP, 3.54 ERA, 166 Ks, 62 BB, 20 HR
Marcel: 9-8, 160 IP, 3.83 ERA, 156 Ks, 56 BB, 17 HR
Steamer: 10-10, 171 IP, 3.85 ERA, 172 Ks, 57 BB, 20 Ks

They all see a very similar guy. Perhaps the most interesting numbers here are the HR allowed. Last year Wheeler did an excellent job limiting the gopher ball, as he allowed just 14 HR in 182.1 IP, thanks to an 8.1 HR/FB rate. And he was even better as the season went on. From June 1 through the end of the year, he allowed 7 HR in 132.1 IP, due to a 5.4 HR/FB mark.

All of the models see Wheeler giving up more homers in fewer innings pitched than last year. For what it’s worth, Wheeler has had strong HR/FB rates in three of his four years in the majors, with the exception being 2017, when he allowed 9 HR in his final 23.2 IP when he was almost definitely pitching while injured.

Here is my biased forecast for Wheeler:

17-7, 205 IP, 2.70 ERA, 210 Ks, 57 BB, 15 HR

Last year Wheeler started in the minors and they shut him down early over workload concerns at the end of the season. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to predict that a healthy Wheeler will exceed last year’s innings total. Also my K/IP totals are right in line with what the computer models forecast. Where we mainly differ is with what Wheeler will allow in walks and homers. My HR allowed figure is definitely optimistic but my opinion is that my walk totals are more realistic than the computer models. The models cannot pick up on the fact that Wheeler is challenging hitters when he gets ahead in the count now, compared with trying to throw the perfect pitch – and mostly missing – earlier in his career.

Where you stand on this last point is probably highly indicative of where you stand on Wheeler in general. If you think he’s turned the corner, that he’s attacking guys more so now than ever before, you probably expect a big year. If you think he’s still a nibbler, your projections will be much more bearish.

You’ll have more credibility in the future if you chime in now with what you think Wheeler will do this year. Next week, Wilson Ramos goes under the forecast microscope.

11 comments on “Mets 2019 projections: Zack Wheeler

  • Chris F

    ERA >3.5
    IP 170-180
    WHIP 1.2
    avgerage pitches per out will be around 6
    average outs per game around <19

  • Bob P

    I like the comparison of Wheeler’s 2018 to deGrom’s 2017. That doesn’t mean that Wheeler will put up deGrom numbers in 2019, but it’s very interesting to see. From my perspective, I expect something similar to what Brian projects and I agree with the lower walk totals. Watching Wheeler pitch in the second half there was a different look to him than in the past. He looked confident and in control of the situation, which was not always the case before. I came to expect a great game from him every time out and he pretty much did it. I truly believe that is all about approach and if he remembers that, I expect a lot of success in 2019 – maybe he will even beat Brian’s projection.

  • footballhead

    I knew that Wheeler’s 2nd half was outstanding; and like you Mr Joura, I believe that we’ll see more of the same throughout 2019. I was surprise at his final numbers for 2018, considering his starting the season in the minors and being shut down early. The fact that he did have 182 IP makes me hopeful of his breaking 200 this year. For 32 starts, that means half the time he’ll complete 7 innings to reach that mark; something pre-2018 Wheeler couldn’t do.

    With a better bullpen (hope, hope), I see 16-8 201 IP 215 K 65 BB 20 HRA 3.00 ERA from his 32 starts.

  • Pete from NJ

    If Wheeler was a stock instead of a pitcher with a past history of injury analysts would still put a buy rating on him.

    Brian’s breakdown of the 2018 minus the transitional 1st quarter would indeed show a solid 2.70ERA.

    Stay healthy Zack. Nice time to have a peak year.

  • TJ

    190 IP
    3.10 ERA

  • Eraff

    Wheeler Changed His Approach…that drove the better results. This wasn’t a lucky turn of results or a hot streak built on happenstance, or even sheer talent. This guy harnessed his great talent and he also conquered his own mind and changed his patterns. He was in attack Mode…he was a creative strike thrower.

    The Question ahead is health. Brian’s projection is CY Level…almost. Healthy, he can be a 1a, 2 kind of Guy.

    I’m looking forward to seeing that Big 3 of Jake, Noah and Wheeler roll out there…Flame throwing Pitching Genuises is my prediction. I believe Noah will join them.

  • EBloom

    I thought his pacing/tempo improved in the 2nd half. His starts used to be unwatchable, but in the 2nd half, his stars were must-see TV, like Jake’s, because you thought he could throw up goose eggs every time. Noah needs to pick up his pitch to pitch pace this year and he’ll have equal results. Grip and rip. I expect huge years from the 3 top line starters, and a career year from Matz. This is ultimately what will carry them to the playoffs – similar to 2015, but with more potent and consistent offense.

  • Pete

    I think Wheeler is finally maturing and his learning curve will continue to go up. So with that in mind
    IP 195
    W-L 20-5
    K’S 210
    BB 62
    HR 18
    WP 1.2

  • MattyMets

    5 forecasts, including yours, and not one assumes an injury shortened season. Based on projected innings pitched, Brian, it sounds like you’re confident he’ll make 33 starts. I wish I shared your optimism on this one. I think he’ll be very good, but I’m a little less bullish on his durability and see more like 25 starts and 165 innings.

    • Chris F

      I have 170-180 IP. I think he would be surprisingly lucky to get 30.

  • Chris F

    Zack Wheeler after today:

    “I think with more reps, I’ll be able to smooth out my fastballs. My command was a little off and I didn’t want to walk Carpenter there again so I gave him one, but it was up. It should have been down a little bit more, but he capitalized on it.”

    Pure midseason form coming out of his mouth even if the arm is still in January.

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