Zack Wheeler has had a weird season. He was sent to Las Vegas to begin his 2018 campaign only to return and essentially steal Matt Harvey‘s job. The righty has finally looked like the guy who the Mets got when they traded for him in 2011.
Wheeler, 28, made some mechanical improvements to his game. He no longer brings the ball over his head and it has allowed him to be much quicker to the plate. Wheeler’s progress has been talked about a ton since it has been happening. Wheeler’s fastball velocity is 95.7 MPH which is the highest of his career. Wheeler has a 3.50 ERA since June 1st coupled with a 3.39 FIP in that time as well. That said, every pitcher has a nice run of starts but it is some of the underlying things in Zack’s game that make buy his breakout.
Hitter’s only swing at 28.5% of the pitches that Wheeler throws out of the zone in his career. But over his last 10 starts dating back to June 1, Wheeler has gotten batters to swing at 34.3% of the pitches he throws out of the zone. Wheeler also threw a first pitch strike 57.4% of the time but over his last 10 starts, it is 64.1%. So essentially Wheeler is able to throw a first pitch strike more often while also getting hitters to chase more. This is evidenced by the low exit velocities against him.
For the season, among pitchers with 150 balls put into play against them, Wheeler allows the fifth lowest exit velocity against him at 84.7 MPH. Since June 1, Wheeler is fourth in that category (among pitchers with 50 balls put into play against them) allowing his average exit velocity to be just 83.4 MPH against him.
So the question is, how is he able to suddenly get these impressive numbers? The answer is throwing more breaking balls.Since June 1, he is throwing his fastball just 55% of the time and for reference, he threw the fastball roughly 62% of the time in 2017 and 2014. A seven percent decrease in usage of his fastball pitches might not seem drastic but for reference, Seth Lugo was asked to throw his curve ball more and as a result, his fastball usage has dropped 7% from last year. In other words, it is a pretty big change.
His fastball usage is eerily similar to that of Charlie Morton the last few years. He threw it 54% of the time in 2017 and will end with roughly the same percentage in 2018. In 2017, the re-invented Morton posted a 3.62 ERA and 3.46 FIP for the World Series champs. Those numbers are very close to Wheeler’s ERA/FIP during his recent success. Both guys throw hard and both have pretty good breaking pitches. Morton generates more strikeouts but Wheeler makes up for that by generating weak contact.
I absolutely buy Wheeler being a legit number three starter in baseball now and I think he will have a huge 2019 season. Will that be for the Mets? I personally don’t believe it will and I cannot blame the Mets. Wheeler only has one year of control remaining and the Mets need a lot to go right in 2019 to compete. Perhaps they can just sign him back after 2019.
I think a team like the Yankees or Brewers will see Wheeler as a legit postseason starter who only needs to go five or six innings due to their great bullpens.