Phillies: Predicting a huge year for Zack Wheeler
After enduring a borderline tortuous 2019 season which saw the likes of Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas cracking the rotation, the Phillies finally decided to invest some big bucks into the “starting pitcher” position (Jake Arrieta does not count, btw).
The Phillies acted with shockingly fast aggression when they signed former Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler to a 5 year/$118 million dollar contract on December 9. While initially this appeared to be quite the lucrative deal, it quickly looked like a serious underpay considering the money guys like Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg received.
Wheeler has had his moments with the Mets. The sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft, expectations for the right-hander have always been through the roof. Wheeler impressed early on his career, becoming an instant contributor for a Mets team pushing for a deep playoff run.
Wheeler posted a 3.50 ERA in his first two seasons with the Mets (2013, 2014) while also striking out an impressive 271 total batters. Wheeler’s hot start to his major league career was ultimately cut short by injury, as he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in early 2015. Wheeler missed two full seasons of action and very frustratingly missed the Mets World Series appearance in 2015.
Wheeler returned to action in 2017, suffering quite the down year as he continued to recover from his surgery (5.21 ERA). After fully healing, he returned to form in 2018 and 2019, getting his ERA back under 4.00 and continuing to prove to be a reliable starter for New York.
The common phrase associated with Wheeler is “untapped potential”. Since he started throwing pitches for the MLB back in 2013, he’s been one of the most analytically enticing pitchers in all of baseball. He throws wicked hard. His 97mph fastball consistently grades him as one of the hardest throwing starters in all of baseball.
Brooks Baseball describes Wheeler’s four-seam fastball as such, “(it’s) blazing fast, has some natural sinking action, results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ four-seamers and has slight armside run”.
Wheeler’s slider is also thrown with exceptional power, clocking in at around 91-92mph. Combine all that with an above-average change-up and a looping 80mph curve, and it’s clear to see why the Phillies fell in love with him.
In 2014 (right before he got hurt) Wheeler was extremely impressive. He had the sixth best K/9 rate in the National League and the 10th most total strikeouts. Even as recently in 2018 Wheeler ranked towards the top of the NL in some important categories. He had the fifth best FIP, the eighth best WHIP, and the ninth best win-loss %.
Like the rest of the Phillies pitching staff, the team is also expecting Wheeler to seriously benefit from an improved coaching staff. The duo of Joe Girardi and Bryan Price should, in theory, be the best coaches Wheeler has ever gotten to work with.
Considering all of the factors, the groundwork truly is laid out for Wheeler to surpass his production in both 2014 and 2018. He’s even further removed from his injury, he’s surrounded by better coaches, and he’s backed by an organization which paid him the big bucks to pitch like an All-Star. Throw in the fact that he’s surrounded by one of the most expensive lineups in baseball, Wheeler truly should have the best year of his career in 2020.