Wheeler’s Command Not as Bad as it Seems

zack wheeler 2

In a fantastic Fangraphs piece written by Jeff Sullivan, he acknowledges the imperfections in Zack Wheeler’s command and introduces the possibility of the receivers catching Wheeler playing a role in last season’s strike numbers.

Sullivan states that Wheeler certainly needs to polish his command to reach his lofty expectations. He’s always walked batters in the minors but, with his excessive strikeout numbers, they did not hurt him much. However, he’s currently guaranteed a rotation spot on the big club this season where he’ll have to throw more strikes and command his pitches with more efficiency to see the same results.

He also had this to say about Wheeler’s strike throwing ability:

“What we can tell is that Wheeler needs to throw some more strikes. Another thing we can tell is that that statement deserves an asterisk.”

What Sullivan means by this is that due to the poor pitch-receiving abilities of John Buck (1.7 strikes below average per game) and Anthony Recker (1.5 strikes below average per game), Wheeler’s strike percentage may have looked uglier than it could have.

He also points out that the receiving got better with Travis d’Arnaud’s promotion with whom he threw 62.5% strikes and only 0.5 strikes below average per start. With Buck and Recker, it was merely 60.4% and 2.8 strikes below average per start.

Here’s what Sullivan had to say if Wheeler had benefited from league average receivers instead of Buck/Recker:

“Wheeler lost some strikes in the zone, and he lost some strikes out of it. If you just plug in league-average numbers, then Wheeler would’ve gained about 35 strikes, lifting his strike rate roughly two percentage points”

Sullivan does not put all the blame on Buck and Recker however, as he suggests the possibility of Wheeler missing his targets, thus taking away the chance of a called strike. He also expresses confidence that Wheeler’s strike throwing ability will improve the more he throws to d’Arnaud and that it’s hard to imagine the situation being any worse than last season.

In the piece, Wheeler’s situation is compared to the progression of other pitchers with strikeout potential and command issues:

“I identified starting pitchers who were 23 somewhere between 2002-2011. Then I started to narrow the pool. I set a walk-rate minimum of 9%. I set a strikeout-rate minimum of 16%, and a contact-rate minimum of 76%. The idea was to get a group of pitchers who had some command issues, but who demonstrated true strikeout ability. I was left looking at 25 names, from CC Sabathia to Casey Coleman.”

The follow up was very promising:

“I then looked at what those same pitchers did in the following two years, spanning 24 to 25 years old. As a group, unweighted, they averaged 8.9% walks, 19.8% strikeouts, and 79.3% contact. Ten of the 25 pitchers were worth at least 5 WAR during the two years. Five were worth at least 8 WAR.”

Wheeler is certainly in good company as names on the list included Tim Lincecum, David Price, and Jon Lester among others.

Sullivan concludes the piece expressing his confidence in Wheeler’s ability to improve his walk rate beyond the simple advantage of having a better receiver. Although he conveys skepticism that Wheeler will ever be “great,” he expects him to be a great sidekick behind the Mets ace, Matt Harvey.

I urge everyone to read the full piece here.

addicted to mets button

  • Charley’s Twin

    Our pitching staff must be so glad to know that with this team, inducing a routine ground ball to the shortstop is a recipe for failure.

  • DrDooby

    Flyball pitchers such as Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee or – eventually – Rafael Montero certainly figure to do better than a groundball pitcher like Jon Niese, considering the current defensive alignment. While the OF may be the best defensive unit in the majors if Lagares starts in CF surrounded by Granderson and C.Young, the middle infield figures to be among the worst with a below average defender at both 2b and SS.

  • Taskmaster4450

    I am sorry…not buying it.

    Wheeler has command issues. Perhaps Wheeler isnt getting “all the calls” he could but isnt that true of everyone who is wild? Those who have a reputation for good command seem to get the benefit of the doubt from umpires while those who don,t, well they don’t.

  • Sunshine

    The worst part is, I just laughed when I read this…beacuse…its true…(sigh).

  • Vin

    Wheeler hasn’t pitched a full year yet, so it’s not like his reputation is set in stone. And there’s a big difference between issuing too many walks when you’re 23 and being truly wild.

    He’s not going to be Kershaw, but he’s not going to be a wild Olie Perez (both mentioned in the article) either.

    Wheeler’s got nasty stuff, a better catcher this year over last, seems to understand what he needs to do and,, if he pitches inside some more, I do think you see a big step forward.

  • I think Wheeler’s command issues have been overblown, not because they’re not important, but because they’re not as important as Zack himself and his current growth curve. More than believing in stuff, sometimes you believe in the person. And I think this kid wants to be great, will work to be great, and has peers to push him to be great. All of this might make him great, but it might not. That said, he will at least be a very solid starter for us, which means he’s part of the good around these parts.

  • BehindTheBag

    If this were true, we’d see it with the other pitchers on the staff.

    Wheeler is a little wild. He’s got good enough stuff to be league average without strong command.

    If he improves his command, he could be a #2.

    If he improves his command and adds a bit more bite to his breaking ball, he’s a #1.

    We’ll see how he develops. Either way, he should be starting opening day.

  • Donal

    But doesn’t it just prove the point if the umps are subjectively squeezing him?

  • RyanF55

    Wheeler has nasty stuff…he has serious movement on his pitches and his fastball tends to break in on hitters. I think he’ll be just fine. His “stuff” is good enough to serve as a #2, borderline #1 if he can find that command. Obviously, much easier said than done, but like much of the Nimmo analysis, defining a 23 year old pitcher as a definitive thing is premature. I think as fans we always over analyze everything haha, but gives these kids time. I think the term “wild” is kind of overblown.

    For being so “out of control”, he posted a 3.42 ERA over 100 innings in 2013 as a 23 year old. I’ll take that…

  • Donal

    Wheeler is under a bit more of a microscope (at least to the general public) than some other pitchers in our system. Especially around here, where you have a very vocal minority rooting for him to fail.

    Of course he’s got issues to work out. He’s a rookie. and his control issues will also be exaggerated by the fact that he’s a hard thrower. smaller margin for error there.

  • Just_Da_damaja

    or 2B…

    and lets not throw too many balls in the dirt..

    seriously…

    to go with an underwhelming defensive SS, 2B and C is criminal.

  • Joey D.

    Hi Pete,
    Sullivan’s conclusion demonstrates why one cannot look for explanations through stats and needs to be with the club accessing situations by what one sees and records empirically rather than through figures found on a computer.
    Poor pitch I assume means border line pitches. Do the stats take into account the different strike zones set up by each home plate umpire which affects what goes into those totals? Do they take into account whom the batters are and how often the benefit of the doubt goes to the established star hitter rather than the rookie pitcher which also affects that statistical accumulation? Does it also take into account that regardless of the catcher, the veteran star pitcher also gets the benefit of the doubt on poor pitches which also goes into those stats which also makes for the league average. Or that Yadier Molina is going to get more of those calls than John Buck?
    Or that Travis is one noted for setting up a good target for his pitchers so that with his sensing the control problem with Zack he set up a target just slightly further into the plate so those questionable pitches might have been a quarter of inch closer to the strike zone, enough for a poor pitch to go his way and that one did not need stats to understand that because so many have been commenting about how well he sets up a target making it easier for them to pitch.

  • Donal

    You’re actually driving the point home. the problem isn’t totally Wheeler. A lot has to do with the his “reputation” and the subjectiveness others are bringing in.

    He is hitting his spots, but not everybody has the same spots.

  • Joey D.

    Hi Donal,

    Yes, that is true and that is also something that cannot be looked at through advanced stats. The Mets might very well sense that Zack’s control is getting better than it appears and he is just not getting the calls which has nothing to do with who is immediately behind the plate but the one behind him. My point was less about Zack as it was again the improper assumption that stats can be revealing.

    Fangraphs was the same source that tried to explain how Marcum was pitching much better than his record indicated with Stephen Guilbert using metrics to prove that it was due to the poor defensive range of the Mets behind him.

    http://voices.yahoo.com/shaun-marcums-season-was-better-than-think-fans-12227387.html?cat=14

    I’m not a fan of saber stats but Joshua Ryan counteracted that point also with his own interpretation of the same advanced metrics

    “http://www.amazinavenue.com/2013/12/3/5164150/2013-mets-season-review-shaun-Marcum

    That is why I try to stress that sabermetrics is not a science. Science pertains to a systemized knowledge of truths that are not open to debate. Obviously, Guilbert and Ryan had access to the same statistics and Guilbert selected only the ones that could back up his contention. Ryan used stats as well, however, one immediately knew there was a problem if simply listening to Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez who were pointing out game after game that at some point during the game there was something suddenly drastically different with Marcum’s pitches. They saw it as it was happening and no stats in the world would ever have revealed what many insiders knew beforehand – that Marcum was injured goods and that his pitches were not the same as they were the prior year with Milwaukee after coming back from the DL – and what many didn’t know because Marcum was hiding from the fact that he had been experiencing sudden numbness for quite a number of seasons.

  • donal

    You stress something no one ever claimed. And you’re siding with the results that support your preconceived notion. Also, Gilbert acknowledged that Marcum was pitching poorly, just that the defense was exaggerating the problem.

    No one can ever give you a good answer without knowing all the relevant facts, not even Ron and Keith. Ron and Keith didn’t “know”. they made reasonable guesses based on the information they had.

    and again, you get hung up on advanced stats. For someone who repeats how little interest you have in them, you have a hard time getting off the subject. Do you agree with the initial premise that Wheeler’s control issues are overblown? Apparently, you do since you gave a list of subjective things Wheeler has no control over that would affect his strike totals.

  • And here I was under the misunderstanding that science was about the better understanding of how our world/universe works and that sabermetrics was about a better understanding about baseball via mathematics/statistics.

  • Donal

    The idea that science isn’t open to debate is fairly off. There are fierce internal debates especially with knew ideas. Even if say 97% of scientists in a certain field stand behind a certain conclusion, there will still be arguments over the details.

  • Joey D.

    Donal,

    Gilbert concluded by saying: “He was the second most valuable pitcher on the Mets this season. No, you did not misread that.” That is not saying one is pitching poorly.
    Keith and Ron were not guessing anything. They saw something changing with his pitches as it was happening and reported it on the spot. They did not give reasons as to what was causing it but as former major leaguers they saw his pitches suddenly did not have the same stuff that they had just the inning before.
    And as far as Wheeler and his control, I said I was talking about the premise of the catcher causing him not to get those border line pitches based on what the stats showed and the reasons why those stats lacked causations. Those are not subjective things – all umpires have their own strike zones, star batters do get calls over rookie pitchers, star pitchers do get calls over rookie batters – all those factors go into making a statistical percentage of border line pitches called as strikes or balls for each catcher calling a game and thus looking at the stats does not give an indication of anything.

  • Joey D.

    Definition of Science:

    a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences..

    And to understand it better, I should have taken this course describing the theory and the fundamentals of the emerging SCIENCE of Sabermetrics.

    https://www.edx.org/course/bux/bux-sabr101x-sabermetrics-101-1558

  • 🙂 Agreed.

  • Donal

    That Yahoo! article was written July 14th. Wheeler had what, 3 starts by then? And considering how Niese and Gee looked early on, is it really that hard to believe? Of course, you don’t argue it, you just dismiss it.

    “Keith and Ron were not guessing anything. They saw something changing with his pitches as it was happening and reported it on the spot. They did not give reasons as to what was causing it but as former major leaguers they saw his pitches suddenly did not have the same stuff that they had just the inning before.”

    They were guessing. They were taking educated guesses, but they were guesses none the less.

    “And as far as Wheeler and his control,”

    Do you agree that the issue is overblown? Yes or no.

    “I said I was talking about the premise of the catcher causing him not to get those border line pitches based on what the stats showed and the reasons why those stats lacked causations.”

    Because you want stats to do something stats don’t do. (or rather, you dismiss them for not doing what they aren’t meant to do) Stats measure production. they measure results in what parameters you give them (which are subject to things like sample sizes). Stats can tell you if a guy’s performance is down. But, stats don’t tell you if a guy is injured.

    and how on earth are varying strike zones and preferential treatment not subjective? Do you know what subjective means?

    “all those factors go into making a statistical percentage of border line pitches called as strikes or balls for each catcher calling a game and thus looking at the stats does not give an indication of anything.”

    Actually, people have been compiling and umpire’s tendencies on calls and the other factors you refer to. If it is recorded, it can be counted.

  • Donal

    Nifty, one guy misuses the word science. Is there scientific process involved? Yup. but, it isn’t nearly precise enough to be a true science.