I am back with another Pitcher Profile Razzball Nation! I was out of town last week and unable to work on multiple screens slash was sipping daiquiris on vacation. True story. Ask Sky. Then ask him what drink we came up with while my daiquiri was half melted and looked like a prop from Hostel.
As I try to do every week, I like picking a guy who pitched on Sunday to keep things topical. I also like to do profiles on pitchers that have been requested. And Zack Wheeler pitched on Sunday! The stars have aligned to give everyone an introspective look and how he… well… looked.
Obviously a big name prospect heading into the season, Wheeler struggled a bit in AAA before his promotion with a 3.93 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 68.2 innings. Given it was in Las Vegas in the PCL, those numbers aren’t as much an eyesore, but I was really worried with his 3.54 BB/9. Yeah you might put an emphasis on trying to hit your spots in the PCL, but I’d rather see a higher ERA and a pitcher with more control with that. As I’ve been helping with comments on Grey’s wrap-ups in the mornings, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about Gerrit Cole vs. Wheeler and I always took Cole. The strikeouts might not quite be there for Cole, but at least he has control.
Wheeler started with a bang notching 7 strikeouts in 6 shutout innings to win his first career start, but entering yesterday’s matchup against the Nationals was sporting a 8:8 K:BB ratio. I know he has power stuff, but I’d to see better control than that. I also know after his second start at the White Sox, there were reports Wheeler was tipping his pitches as advisors to manager Terry Collins were alerted him. So as I break down his start yesterday, I’ll break down his stuff and keep an eye on if he’s giving anything away.
First Inning: The first pitch of the game is a 94-MPH fastball to Denard Span taken for a strike. I know Wheeler can amp it up to the upper-90s so that was a get-me-over strike there, but the crowd loves it in Wheeler’s home debut for the Mets. Wheeler is low at 96, 1-1, then up to 97 which is fouled off, 1-2. Wheeler then goes to the curveball, at 79-MPH and it has late life and a seriously heavy sink that gets Span swinging even though it bounced to the catcher and the play is made to first to start the game with a K. For that being his first breaking ball, that was really impressive – if he can do that all game he’ll be tough to hit. Wheeler then starts Anthony Rendon with a 96-MPH in there 0-1, then a curveball again at 79-MPH sweeps across the zone but catches the outside corner, 0-2. If Wheeler can throw those curveballs for strikes early in the count, man he’ll be tough. He then misses outside with his first slider at 90-MPH, it stayed too low and outside, 1-2, then a 95-MPH fastball right at the knees gets Rendon unable to hold his swing for his second K. That had a tad of sink on it, probably a ball, but fantastic pitch to get a swing-and-miss. Now up is Ryan Zimmerman who takes a fastball for a strike, now all three batters he’s gotten ahead of. The slider is outside, then a fastball bounced foul, 1-2. A fastball at the eyes at 98-MPH is barely fouled back, then a curveball at 80-MPH hung a tad, but is grounded to short to end the inning in order. So far I haven’t seen anything to indicate he’s tipping his stuff.
Second Inning: Despite no scoring, it was a fairly long bottom of the first, and Wheeler starts Adam LaRoche with a 94-MPH fastball right down the middle that LaRoche absolutely crushes for a home run. You’ve got to know the Nationals hitters are talking to each other, and Span probably told LaRoche to look for that get me over fastball exactly how he started the game. So up now is Jayson Werth who takes a 97-MPH fastball outside, then 96 low, and Wheeler is scuffling. 96-MPH fastball is outside, 3-0, then again outside for a four pitch walk. Yikes, about as good a first inning you could have and now a first-pitch homer then four-pitch walk. Wheeler starts Ian Desmond with a 96-MPH fastball on the outside corner taken by Desmond who shows bunt for a strike, then Desmond takes a huge hack at a fastball at 94 MPH up and in to make it 0-2. Wheeler throws the slider low and outside at 90-MPH, still haven’t seen one of those near the zone, then another slider at 88-MPH also low and outside. Now there I saw something. He slowed his delivery down a tad on that slider, Desmond was easily able to lay off. Almost as if Wheeler was trying to be sure that one started in the zone, guiding it where he wanted it. So it’s 2-2, and a 96-MPH fastball is crushed opposite field for a double, it scores Werth, and makes it 2-0. I think everyone could’ve guessed a fastball was coming there with the struggle adjusting that slider. So up now is Roger Bernadina who takes a slider way in and tight, then a fastball inside, 2-0. A 94-MPH fastball gets a big cut and is hit on the end of the bat for a flyout to right for the first out, and Desmond tags to third. Wheeler starts Kurt Suzuki with a slider that barely hangs onto the outside corner, 0-1, Suzuki didn’t like that call, then a fastball at 93-MPH up and in gets a check swing but the ball hits the bat, so it’s 0-2. Need a strikeout here. Then a curveball at 78-MPH gets a swing and a weakly hit ball to short, but with the infield in trying to protect Desmond from scoring goes off Omar Quintanilla‘s glove for an RBI single. That was tough luck there. Now 3-0 and runner on first with one down, Wheeler starts a bunting Gio Gonzalez with a pitch low that’s offered on , 0-1, then Gio bunts a high one foul, 0-2. Wheeler is way outside but Gio again goes for it and bunts it foul for a strikeout. So two down, and back up is Span who takes a fastball low, then another fastball fouled off, 1-1, then a change-up that didn’t do much at 86 is fouled, 1-2. That was his first change-up and you see why he doesn’t throw it much. A fastball is outside, then a curveball way inside and low, 3-2. That very first curveball in the first inning to Span was by far Wheeler’s best off-speed pitch; he just doesn’t have the feel for them right now. A fastball is fouled back, still 3-2, then a well-placed fastball at 95 is spoiled, then a 93-MPH fastball on the outside edge is hit hard opposite field for a double and it scores Suzuki running on contact, now 4-0. Out comes pitching coach Dan Warthen for a chat, and the first pitch to Rendon is a slider grounded weakly to short and Wheeler is mercifully out of the inning.
Third Inning: So after the brutal 2nd inning, Wheeler starts the third with a fastball at 92 that runs inside, 0-1 to Zimmerman, then low at 93. Velocity a little down right now. An 87-MPH slider is in there for a strike, it didn’t do much though, then a nice curveball on the outside corner gets a bad swing-and-miss, 2-2. Wheeler is again inside, full count, then a mini-slider down the middle, again little break, gets a weak ground ball to short for the first out. Wheeler starts LaRoche this time with a fastball outside, 0-1, then an 88-MPH change-up, this time a good one, gets LaRoche to pop out to shallow left, two down. Nice pitch there to a guy sitting fastball after that homer in the second. Wheeler starts Werth with a fastball inside then a 94-MPH fastball down the middle is taken for a strike, 1-1. Then Wheeler again goes down the middle, Werth adjusts and is ready for it, and clobbers a homer on a 93-MPH fastball. John Buck was calling for it inside and it missed by a foot over the middle. Back to business and Wheeler starts Desmond with a nice first-pitch curveball for a strike, he needs to use that more often, then a fastball high and out of the zone is fouled back, 0-2. A slider is outside, 1-2, then another slider, his best on the day, stays in the zone with a hard late break but stays at the knees to get Wheeler’s 4th strikeout.
Fourth Inning: Still down 5-0, Wheeler starts the fourth with a 94-MPH fastball swung on and missed by Bernadina, then a curveball is way inside, 1-1. A change-up sails high, then a fastball outside, 3-1, then a fastball is fouled off to work it full. Another fastball at 95-MPH is ripped foul, Bernadina is sitting on the fastball, but Wheeler throws a good one right off the outside corner and Bernadina grounds out weakly to short. Wheeler starts Suzuki with a fastball high, then one in there at 95, then another fastball at 94 is called a ball but looked good to me, 2-1. Another fastball at 94 is ripped foul, 2-2, then a slider is outside, yet another full count. A fastball again placed well on the outside corner at 94-MPH gets a weak ground ball to David Wright for the second out. Two down, and Gio is first pitch swinging and grounds out weakly to short for a 1-2-3 inning all on weak ground balls.
Fifth Inning: Hoping to build on a solid inning and end on a positive note, Wheeler is at 70 pitches and starts Span with a perfect fastball at 93-MPH on the lower outside corner 0-1, then hangs a curveball high, 1-1. Wheeler then bounces a fastball at 93, 2-1 and the velocity is still way down. Another fastball at 93 is flared to shallow center and lands for a leadoff single. Wheeler paints the outside corner to Rendon, 0-1, then a slider at 87, very well placed and hangs onto the outside black makes it 0-2. So Wheeler again goes with the slider but overthrows it way outside for a wild pitch and Span moves to second. So 1-2 and another slider is fouled away, another fastball is fouled back, then another fastball paints the inside corner at 93 for Wheeler’s 5th K. Wheeler starts Zimmerman with a fastball for a strike, then a tight 87-MPH slider gets the zone as well, 0-2. Wheeler climbs the ladder at 94 but it’s taken, 1-2, then another one taken inside, 2-2. Wheeler then goes to the curveball, it gets Zimmerman to golf at it and he hits it pretty well but it’s caught on the edge of the warning track and Span moves to third with two outs. Wheeler misses with a change outside to LaRoche, then bounces a fastball, 2-0. A fastball is high, then way outside and high for a four-pitch walk. And that’ll end Wheeler’s day.
Final Line: L 4.2 IP 89 Pitches (54 Strikes) 6 Hits 2 Walks 5 ER 5 K Gamescore: 35 Gamescore+: 41.6
Final Analysis: A tough outing for Wheeler, with almost all of the damage done in the 2nd inning. The big question is what happened to the velocity? After throwing high 90s fairly consistently in his first two starts and in the first inning, it tailed off and after the 2nd rarely got over 94. With such a reliance on his fastball, a definite red flag. With getting more strikeouts than innings pitched a lot of weakly hit outs, Wheeler’s Gamescore+ stayed high.
With a four-pitch mix of the heater, slider, curveball and change-up, Wheeler has tremendous upside. The heater looked good early but got him into trouble on the very first pitch of the second. He then had some nice ones painting the black at 93-94, but missed badly a fair amount as well. The slider was definitely touch-and-go, it is very reminiscent of Matt Harvey‘s slider with tight, compact break. The very first curveball Wheeler threw was by far his best, and he struggled with its feel the rest of the game. Usually that’s not the case, but Wheeler just didn’t look the same after a dominant first inning. The change-up also had its issues and wasn’t used much. Wise man once said, “Change-up no bueno if not 10 MPH slower than fastball.” Wheeler’s changes were usually 87-89 and with his fastball dipping in velocity to the 94 range, isn’t going to be effective.
Wheeler’s got a lot of kinks to work out. The tipping of his pitches I only noticed once in this game in the 2nd when he tried to over-guide a slider. But hitters were locking in when on his fastball just because he didn’t have a consistent feel with his other pitches. Each secondary pitch showed potential and a few of each except maybe the change looked above ML-average. Then there’s the fastball velocity that he needs to be able to maintain in the high 90s or be able to hit his spots in the mid-90s and amp up when necessary. All of those adjustments is just too much for him to be held in 10-team leagues right now. But in keepers and dynasty leagues I’m still very optimistic in his stuff as he refines.