Zack Wheeler: The Inverted W, PCL Effect, and Command Issues

An article by posted on April 27, 2013

zack wheeler

Matthew Cerrone of MetsBlog.com profiled pitching prospect Zack Wheeler in his latest installment of the Mets Minor League Report on Friday. I wanted to address the many problems I found with his analysis and conclusions.

Before I go there, let’s take a quick look at where Zack Wheeler is right now.

Currently, the young right-hander is 0-1 with a 5.79 ERA and 1.76 WHIP over five starts. He has allowed 15 earned runs on 26 hits and 15 walks while striking out 28 in 23.1 innings pitched.

Readers of MMO know fully well what I’ve been saying about Wheeler from day one. I’ve often raised my concerns and what I try to do is look at all our prospects not as Mets prospects, but just as a prospect.

That’s how we’ve always done things here and we try to be as objective in our analysis as we can, and often bring in the opinions of outside experts, executives and scouts. Oftentimes it means you won’t get that 100% fanboy nonsense, but what you do get is a true picture of whomever we analyze.

Our minor league staff comes packed with experience and includes points of views from those who have gotten a real taste of playing, coaching, instructing, injury experts, and scouting. It took 9 years to build this impressive team we have at MMO.

Now lets go to Matt Cerrone’s analysis…

My first issue with him is this:

“I talked to a talent evaluator who has watched Wheeler this season, and he says he’s pitching well, and his advanced stats prove it, but he’s clearly suffering from the hitter-friendly environment in Las Vegas.”

This talent evaluator of his is completely out of his mind for saying what he did.

He is dead wrong, along with Cerrone’s conclusion, that he’s suffering from the effects of pitching in the PCL.

It is complete nonsense and there’s nothing analytic about any of it. It’s simply an uneducated and unqualified statement to make in light of how he compares with the rest of the league.

The facts are that there is not one advanced metric that proves Wheeler is pitching well. None. Let Cerrone come here and elaborate on these so called great advanced metrics.

What the uninformed folks at SNY are doing is trying to present themselves as prospect analysts when they are clearly not.

If the effects of the PCL are as dramatic as they claim, than why is Wheeler one of only five starting pitchers in the entire league suffering from it?

Currently, among all qualified pitchers with four or more starts in the PCL, Zack Wheeler ranks 48th in ERA and 49th in WHIP. There are about 45 pitchers in the PCL who are out-performing Zack Wheeler including his own teammate Collin McHugh, who ranks sixth in the PCL with a 1.67 ERA.

If you look at the PCL leaders in ERA you will find four other top pitching prospects who along with Wheeler were also among Baseball America’s Top 100. They are all having great seasons with an average ERA of 3.39.

Cerrone mentions solid mechanics which is a phrase that should never be used in the same sentence as Zack Wheeler. NEVER.

You see, Wheeler pitches with what’s called an “Inverted W”. Basically, it’s a flawed delivery that puts an enormous amount of stress on the ulnar collateral ligament. This happens because as he delivers his pitch, the velocity that is built up, and the strain of it all, is not equally distributed between his knee, leg, shoulder and elbow. As Wheeler moves forward, the lower half of his body and his foot is already planted while his arm is still fully extended and behind him thereby putting all of the strain of his ferocious delivery on the the smallest of all the ligaments involved – the UCL. The science backs that up.

There are quite a few pitchers who have pitched with an Inverted W and didn’t end up having Tommy John Surgery, but what makes Wheeler such a high risk is that he is hard thrower with a 99 mph fastball. It’s these hard throwers who are most at risk. Stephen Strasburg was one such hard thrower who blew out his UCL because of the Inverted W in his delivery. And his Inverted W was not even as pronounced as Wheeler’s.

After Zack Wheeler was drafted, the San Francisco Giants moved quickly to alter Wheeler’s delivery to avoid this ticking time bomb. They knew it would ultimately lead to a weakened elbow ligament, loss of command, and a future trip to see Dr. Andrews. However, in the midst of this change in Wheelers delivery, they opted instead to just trade him to the Mets. It was then learned from someone I spoke to last year, that Wheeler resisted the change in his delivery and was only too glad when Mets trainers told him to go back to his regular delivery.

One red flag that you frequently see from a power pitcher with an Inverted W is a gradual loss of command. That is because the UCL is what stabilizes the entire structure of the elbow. The weaker it gets, the more difficult it becomes to command your pitches – especially the fastball.

Cerrone talks about improved command and I have to wonder if he’s been watching Wheeler’s starts at all this season. He’s now sporting the highest walk rate of his professional career and that has nothing at all to do with humidity.

Cerrone asks, “why let him develop bad habits in a ballpark that is not indicative of the rest of reality?”

He then proceeds to answer the question and writes:

“I understand the arbitration and free agent, clock issues, etc., I get it, but I think this kid has to be promoted the minute the team feels it is viable. He’s closing in on 200 upper-level innings. It’s time. Let’s go.”

My God, what is he talking about?

Even Terry Collins on Thursday expressed his concerns saying, “What worries me the most is that he’s not pounding the strike zone. We’ve got to have some strikes out of him because his stuff is going to play.”

Collins is right. Nobody doubts Wheeler has three to four plus pitches. His stuff is extraordinary. But you have to have command of those pitches – you have to throw strikes. You can’t have a 100 pitch count every time out by the sixth inning or even the fifth because of all the pitches out of the zone. Too many deep counts, too many hitter’s counts, and none of it has anything to do with park effects. This is all on him.

Promoting Wheeler to the major leagues now is an awful idea. It’s a terrible idea. Wheeler needs to execute and exhibit better command. This notion that a MLB callup will remedy that is both preposterous and irrational.

So my issues with all of Cerrone’s analysis are this:

1. It’s The Humidity. WRONG

2. Sound Mechanics. WRONG

3. Improved Command. WRONG

4. Bring Him Up Anyway. WRONG.

I did leave Matt a comment on his post yesterday, and had hoped he would reply. he didn’t so I took to writing my rebuttal here. This is what I initially left him:

The Giants were actually trying to alter Wheeler’s mechanics for fear of the inverted W leading to TJS. It was during this transition that he was traded and the Mets opted to let him resume pitching with the inverted W.

As you know it puts more stress on the elbow and shoulder because his lower body and plant foot are way ahead of his arm and release.

It’s even more dangerous for hard throwers as pointed out with Strasburg.

I thought it was curious that the Mets decided to let him proceed along this path and questioned the wisdom of it at the time. It’s a ticking time bomb.

Sound mechanics and Zack Wheeler should never be in the same sentence. The fact that his release is so late is also why he has no idea where the ball will end up and part of his command issues. It’s a scientific fact based on all the momentum and velocity that is built up not being evenly distributed as it should be.

We have a great prospect with 3 and maybe 4 plus pitches, but right now he’s a thrower and not a pitcher.

Finally, the thin air is a terrible excuse and even more so when that’s your basis for a promotion to the majors.

That is faulty logic and irrational thinking, Wheeler is obviously far from ready and it has nothing to do with humidity as this report points out.

Among all starters with four or more starts in the PCL, Wheeler ranks 48th in ERA and 47th in WHIP.

Wheeler is not ready, and I think what we see here is the fan in Cerrone speaking and not anything resembling true player analysis.

I think it’s time for the Mets to fix Wheeler’s command issues and move forward with the plan the Giants initially had in place, and that the Nationals put in place when Strasburg came back from Tommy John Surgery. I think the Giants know what they’re doing when it comes to developing pitchers. Wheeler hasn’t developed and he is regressing, and that’s a fact I know most of you will choose to ignore because nobody wants to hear that about any Met prospect. So if you want fairy tales stick with Mets Blog, but if you opt for real minor league analysis, you’re at the right place.

This talk of bringing him up and the incessant over-coverage of Wheeler on SNY broadcasts, features, videos, and minor league reports, all calling for his promotion has really got to stop.

I want to leave on one bright note and that is that in Zack Wheeler we have the potential for a truly great pitcher that could be just as good as Matt Harvey is now. Zack Wheeler has the arsenal to become an ace one day, but only if the Mets do this right.

I think the inverted W is a huge concern, but not one that can’t be remedied with a slight mechanical fix. All we can do as fans is hope for the best, but please don’t buy into this amateurish SNY message that Wheeler is ready for a promotion. He’s not. No pitcher with numbers like that should ever be promoted no matter what league he’s pitching in.

Thoughts from Mitch Petanick

Everyone loves Zack Wheeler’s stuff. If it were based on his stuff alone, he would be in the top 10 percent of pitchers in the big leagues today. His stuff is that good. But there is more to pitching than having good stuff. Joe brings up very valid points regarding Wheeler.

With regards to his mechanics, the inverted W raises concern. The inverted W generally causes additional strain on the arm, because the pitcher’s lead foot will land early, causing the pitcher to have to speed up his arm to catch up to his lower body.

The Mets have said that even though he uses the inverted W, Wheeler doesn’t have the issue of his foot landing early. This may be the case right now, but all it takes is one pitch where his foot lands too early to cause potential damage. I think this is a bigger issue than most are leading it on to be, especially with your top pitching prospect.

The issue I have with Wheeler’s command is hitting batters, although through five games it hasn’t been a big concern this season. We know that Wheeler likes pitching inside to right-handed hitters and his two seam fastball has ridiculous inward movement to right-handed hitters. He still hasn’t learned to use this pitch effectively, because if he did, he wouldn’t have so many hit batters. Wheeler should start that two-seamer on the middle of the plate, and have it move in on the hands, either jamming hitters or breaking bats. Wheeler starts that pitch too far inside, which leads to hitting batters.

He’s not bored, and what happened with Matt Harvey last year was an exception to the rule. It’s not the air in Las Vegas either, other pitchers seem to be having success. This is all on Wheeler. Time to stop making excuses. The kid has dynamite stuff, but hasn’t mastered the art of pitching. Once he does, the Mets will have something special.

About the Author ()

I'm a lifelong Mets fan who loves writing and talking about the Amazins' 24/7. From the Miracle in 1969 to the magic of 1986, and even the near misses in '73 and '00, I've experienced it all - the highs and the lows. I started Mets Merized Online in 2005 to feed my addiction and interact with other passionate Met fans like you. Follow me on Twitter @metsmerized.

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