Zack Wheeler: Jered Weaver-like Swing Prevention

After evaluating Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom in my previous post on the 2015 Mets Commanding Rotation, I was hoping to follow-up by looking at pitch release point consistency for a number of pitchers that prevented contact in the zone but didn’t have elite swinging-strike/contact rates. Initially, I found good results using root-mean-square deviations.

For example, look at the swinging-strike and zone-contact rates for Collin McHugh, Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker and Lance Lynn:

Now, look at Jered Weaver’s RMSE of .248 vs. Collin McHugh’s RMSE, .395; and now Lance Lynn’s RMSE of .284 vs. Matt Shoemaker’s RMSE, .323. Initially, this looked great: despite very similar zone-contact rates, Weaver’s and Lynn’s lower RMSE’s verified more consistency when compared directly to McHugh and Shoemaker respectively, but then I looked at two other examples within great zone-contact rates: Johnny Cueto vs. Ervin Santana and Marcus Stroman vs. Garret Richards. They both showed reverse effects. This is understandable as we can’t rely on pitch release point consistence as a consistently good measure of deception since many pitchers purposely and effectively use different slots. There are also effects likes this:

Prior to giving up on further evaluating the effect for everyone with a great zone-contact%, I z-scored the following plate discipline-related categories depicted below in this order: ERA and ERA-differential comparing it to SIERA; swing%; zone-contact%; general zone%; first pitch strike%; general contact% and swinging-strike%. The outcomes are first followed by their z-scores for these qualifiers in italics. Green font means positively beyond half a standard deviation from the mean in that category; red naturally the opposite. It’s sorted by swing%:

With Zack Wheeler in mind, I noticed his similarity to Jered Weaver from these plate discipline-related outcomes: they both do an excellent job preventing swings, naturally, as they both have problems with throwing first-pitch strikes (both 1.5 standard deviations below the mean of this group) and both are below average finding the zone. However, what Weaver and Wheeler both do (other than start their last names with the sound We), is prevent zone-contact well above average. They are only two of four (along with Jason Vargas and Alex Wood) that prevent zone contact at an elite rate while generally preventing swings. Weaver prevents zone contact almost two standard deviations from the mean; Wheeler just over one while Vargas and Wood do so just over a half SD away.

The results: general contact rates under 79% and ERA’s hovering between 3.50 and 3.60. Wheeler has a ton more velocity, but Weaver’s release point consistency (if I can still use this in my repertoire) is about 20% better.

There is already much more swing and miss to Wheeler’s game and I think that will jump next year based on his velocity and repertoire and hopefully a swap of more breaking pitches or a better changeup.

At 24, Wheeler had a better season across the board than Weaver did at 24 and excluding the walk-rate, I can see an age 27 Weaver season for Wheeler as soon as next year meaning the following if I’m staying rational:

  • 3.15 SIERA/3.00 ERA: both Weaver throughout his career and Wheeler last year well-out-perform their expected ERA’s.
  • 24.5% K-rate and a 9.3% BB-rate = 15.25 K%-BB%: This would put Wheeler in top 30 overall command territory near Cole Hamels, Alex Cobb and Tyson Ross. He’s already not far off at 13.3% (currently the 54th best rate).
  • So long as he’s healthy, Wheeler should have a better general contact rate throughout his career and his GB/FB ratio is already better than Weaver’s ever was.

If I’m not staying rational and I’m being honest? I think we can see an elite 3-year sub-3 ERA like we did with Weaver between 2010 and 2012. There will be a much higher WHIP in fantasy terms (1.20 vs. 1.02), but that also comes with the potential for 215+ K’s consistently. Like I said in my last post, some Juan Lagares-related BABIP and some LOB% and HR/FB-related luck, there’s reason to believe that Wheeler could again post an ERA 50 points lower than his expected ERA.

Hopefully him, deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey feed off each other and their successful repertoire(s). Chalk Wheeler up for as good of an ERA as any of them unless Harvey returns to max-form.

Daniel Schwartz contributes for RotoGraphs when he's not selling industry leading thermal packaging. You can follow him on twitter @RotoBanter

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I’d settle for a Jeff Weaver clone…