Phillies 2021 Spring Training Preview: Pitching Staff

Aaron Nola #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Aaron Nola #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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Zack Wheeler #45 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Zack Wheeler

Up next in the order is the only pitcher that could compete for the opening day spot with Nola, Zack Wheeler. Wheeler had the best season of his career, the first year away from the Mets. Back in December of 2019, Wheeler agreed to a 5-year contract worth more than $100 million to be the Phillies number 2.

There is no argument that what Wheeler did in 2020 proves he can be worth the deal, 156 ERA+, 3.22 FIP, and a 3.76 xFIP. All career highs for the new pitcher in pinstripes.

What did Wheeler do to have a career year? One large reason is he got a lot more ground balls in 2020 but also had the lowest strikeout rate of his career.

Wheeler got groundballs against 55.9% of the batters he faced, a career-high. However, he struck out fewer batters per 9 at just 6.72, both of these numbers don’t seem sustainable for his career but this could also mean with pitching coach Bryan Price that this would be the weirdest but the best way for Wheeler to maximize his pitching.

Another thing that stuck out to me was Wheeler used more of his fastball in 2020. In 2019 he was throwing his fastball 59% of the time. In 2020, that went up to 66% of the time so clearly, this was something the Phillies pitching staff wanted him to do. This is a very sustainable thing since coaches were probably telling him to do this.

Now, who knows what Caleb Cotham will carry over from what Price did but I would imagine we will still see Wheeler throwing fastballs more than 65% of the time in 2021.