In an article from Joe Bloss of MLB.com, Mets skipper Mickey Callaway stressed that the team was very pleased with the performance the 28-year-old Georgia native has put forth this season and had the player’s best interests in mind.
“We’re really excited about the year he had, and we feel like we’d probably be taking the best care of him we can if we shut him down at this point.”
And pleased is exactly what Callaway should be with Wheeler’s 2018 season. After scratching and clawing his way back to being MLB-ready, only then did Zack Wheeler really turn on the jets.
From Opening Day through the end of June, 15 starts, the right-hander had a 4.47 earned-run average, a .253/.321/.362 slash line against, and a 2-6 record. His 86-to-32 strikeouts-to-walks ratio was encouraging, but control had never really been Wheeler’s issue.
Wheeler added a new pitch to his repertoire this season, a door-shutting split-fingered fastball that he’s used almost exclusively as a strikeout pitch. Once he got a feel for that, which didn’t take long, and saw his average fastball velocity gradually increase (up to 96.2, a career-high), this writer, and I’m sure many of you, could almost feel his confidence coming through the screen.
By the end of the season, his weighted on-base average (wOBA) against his splitter ended up as a paltry .236 and the weighted runs created plus rating (wRC+) against it was 55 (Fangraphs).
Just for good measure, his slider (.247 wOBA, 62 wRC+), curve (.247 wOBA, 58 wRC+), fastball (.285 wOBA, 85 wRC+), and changeup, to a lesser extent, weren’t half bad either.
From July 1 through the end of his season, Wheeler was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. In 14 starts (93.2 innings; 6.2 innings per start), the East Paulding High alum pitched to a 2.21 ERA with a .195/.259/.277 slash line against, 93 strikeouts, 23 walks, and an elite .254 BABIP.
A switch was most definitely flipped on. Whether that can be attributed to Callaway, pitching coach Dave Eiland, shots of Forteo to the breadbasket, or just plain, old-fashioned hard work is nearly impossible to determine.
What is determinable is the fact that from the depths of an unimaginable battle with injuries and setbacks, Zack Wheeler has got himself healthy, made all the adjustments, regained his confidence, and has cemented his place as a player to watch in 2019.
Wheeler’s final line for the season is littered with career-highs and ranks more than respectably against other qualified NL hurlers as of Wednesday.
His 3.31 ERA (11th in NL), 1.124 WHIP (7th), 2.7 walks per nine innings (15th), 3.25 strikeouts-to-walks ratio (14th), 111 ERA+, .279 BABIP (13th; tied with his rookie 2013 season), 0.69 home runs per nine innings (2nd in the league behind Jacob deGrom‘s 0.45), 3.24 FIP (5th in NL), and 4.2 fWAR (also 5th) are all high-water marks for the right-hander.
Again from MLB.com, Wheeler seemed hesitant to call it a year but certainly appeared to know that the benefits outweighed the risks.
“[My] body after this long is starting to wear down a little bit,” he said. “But if I really needed to for the playoff push or something, I could definitely go out there and finish it up. That’s not why I’m stopping. It’s just being smart, really.”
“Obviously, I think overall it was a good season for me. A bit of a learning experience at the beginning. I made some adjustments, and I was able to take off the second half.”
The strides he’s made, not just this season, but through his journey from the repeated adversities he’s faced since going down initially in 2014, should give us all a very clear picture of the type of intestinal fortitude, moxie, and determination Zack Wheeler possesses as a ballplayer and as a person.
And it should also leave us all clamoring for his 2019 season.