I noticed a few things during Zack Wheeler’s start I’d like to point out. A few things impressed me and there are some things that are noteworthy after doing some research:
- Of Wheeler’s seven strikeouts, six were swinging and it was only the opposing pitcher that took a called third strike.
- All seven third strikes were fastballs. Six were four-seamers, none of those were less than 95 mph, and the other was a 90 mph cutter.
- Wheeler threw 23 pitches in his debut inning. 21 were four-seam fastballs, one slider and one curveball.
- Wheeler’s command was off on his breaking pitches. He spotted his fastball when he needed to and threw that pitch 73% of the time, which is how he managed to limit the damage despite runners on base in every inning. Here’s the breakdown:
- Curveballs: Eleven for three strikes (27%)
- Sliders: Fifteen for eight strikes (53%)
- Changeups: Two for two strikes (100%)
- Fastballs: 74 for 42 strikes (57%)
- Of his 42 fastball strikes, only ten (24%) were put in play.
- Zack got Braves hitters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone (O-zone%) 19.2% of the time according to PITCHf/x plate discipline. One start doesn’t tell a story, but a sampling of some of the best pitchers force opposing hitters to expand the zone at least 30% of the time. Note the chart, and note three Mets on there:
Author’s note: these are not the top 21. This is a sampling of the best pitchers and I had to reach down to include Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Clay Buchholz for accurate comparison. Jeremy Hefner is actually 43rd in MLB in this particular stat, Dillon Gee is 24th and Matt Harvey is 17th.
- Average PITCHf/x velocity:
- Fastball (four-seam): 95.4 mph
- Fastball (cutter): 89.8 mph
- Slider: 88.7 mph
- Curveball: 77.3 mph
- Changeup: 85.6 mph
- Wheeler got swinging strikes on 9.8% of his pitches, which (if he were qualified), would put him right between Hiroki Kuroda and Jarrod Parker in the top 30 in MLB. The really good pitchers average between 10.5% and 11% and above 11% is where the likes of Yu Darvish, Anibal Sanchez, Harvey, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Hisashi Iwakuma and Verlander live.
I thought Wheeler did even better than I expected. I predicted Wheeler to only get through 5.1 innings in his 100 pitches while giving up two earned runs, but his six shutout were a pleasant surprise. His wildness was to be expected in his first career start, but it bears keeping an eye on. He should be commanding his pitches better as the novelty of being in the majors wears off.
The slider could be Wheeler’s most important pitch. If he can’t completely master the curveball, he’ll need to have that slider be his best breaking pitch because of its resemblance to his fastball out of the hand. If hitters have to sit on his fastball because of its dominance, a slider that looks like a fastball for 50 feet could be devastating if he can control it. As he becomes more polished, I’d like to see three mph shaved off his breaking pitches, as that variance from his fastball could make a world of difference.
Once he proves he can get his breaking pitches over for strikes, his O-zone% should jump rather quickly. I was, however, impressed with his ability to miss bats overall. One would think that throwing the fastball 73% of the time and not getting his breaking pitches over would tip the batters the second and third time through the order what was coming, but Wheeler still managed to notch seven swinging strikes in the 67 pitches (10.4%) he threw from the third inning on, when the Braves started their second time through the order. He actually missed bats at a greater pace after the Braves had seen him once through already. That speaks to the authority of his fastball.
My esteemed colleague and fellow immortal Satish put it ever so succinctly: “I think he did everything as expected tonight. The stuff was electric and he was nervous as hell. That was Wheeler without his command. Wheeler with his command…oh boy.”
— Dwight Gooden (@DocGooden16) June 19, 2013
Check out Grade 80 where Matt Koenig has even more on Wheeler’s debut.