Zack Wheeler‘s major league debut played second fiddle to Matt Harvey’s pre-Tommy John surgery season. Wheeler was a fairly highly-touted prospect since being drafted in 2009 by the Giants and then being traded to the Mets (#49 in 2010, #55 in 2011, #35 in 2012 and #11 in 2013 by Baseball America). He started his first MLB game in the middle of June and his season was combination of good and bad. Going into 2014, walks and injury concerns will be limiting his fantasy value.
The 24-year-old right-handed pitcher didn’t exactly light the world on fire. He had a 7.6 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9. His ERA was respectable at 3.42, but all of his ERA estimators were north of four (4.17 FIP, 4.21 xFIP, 4.40 SIERA). The reason for the disconnect was his 78% LOB%. Here are some comparable 2013 starters with similar walk a strikeout numbers.
Pitchers can survive with a 7.6 K/9, but few with a +4.0 BB/9. Only three qualified starters had a +4.0 BB/9 in 2013 (Jeff Locke in addition to Dempster and Volquez). His minor league walk rate was also high at 4.0 BB/9.
Pitchers can hope to improve their command and Wheeler is one such pitcher. Wheeler said improving his command is his next goal.
“And also repeating my delivery,” he added. “I think that’s the two biggest things. And I think if I repeat my delivery, command will come along with it.”
Saying something and doing it are two different things. Here is a list of rookie pitchers who pitched around 100 innings over the past 10 seasons who had similar numbers to Wheeler.
Some of the pitchers improved (Price) while others (Pomeranz) struggled. A huge key for Wheeler will be dropping his walk rate to the 3.0 BB/9 range.
Besides the high walk rate, he is an injury concern. The biggest and most obvious injury factor was his shoulder which ended his 2013 season. The injury didn’t require any surgery, but one reason for the shutdown really caused me concern.
“[Being shut down] was a group decision,” Wheeler said. “I’m 20 innings over what I had last year. It’s a little stiff, so we’re just being cautious.” Well, Zack not really, it was only nine. In 2012, threw 148 between AA and AAA. In 2013, he was at 157 innings between AAA and the majors. Nine innings usually is not supposed to set off an injury, but it did for Wheeler.
Note: I counted his strikeouts instead of his innings pitched. Sorry for not correcting early.
I probably see 200 IP as a max amount of innings pitched.
Signs existed late in the season for an injury. His fastball velocity was trending down with a one mph drop in his last game.
With the velocity, it makes sense to try to find any spring training reports to see if he is in the +94 mph range.
Also, he was having problems finding the strike zone at the season’s end.
A loss of velocity and command are almost certain signs of an injury.
Zack Wheeler was one several shiny Mets pitching prospects. Since getting to the majors, reality is setting in and Wheeler is struggling with walks and injury concerns. Personally, I think he will be over-drafted based on his previous high prospect rankings. In my opinion, his Steamer projection (4.12 ERA, 182 IP, 165 K, and 1.37) seems about right. It could see it go lower on innings pitched and draft accordingly. 2014 will be key for Wheeler, does he progress or regress as a pitcher?
Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.