Zack Wheeler is the Philadelphia Phillies‘ ace. Has been for a while.
But it’s not for the reasons you probably think: the complete games, shutouts, low ERA, high strikeout numbers, finishing runner-up in the Cy Young voting last year, the way opposing batters quake in their cleats when they have to face him, et cetera.
Those are all ace qualities, but the biggest mark of a true ace is something totally unexpected and utterly infuriating.
Zack Wheeler is the Phillies’ ace because he gets no run support.
That’s right, to be a true ace means you get no backup from the lineup. It’s happened to Jacob deGrom for his entire career and Chris Sale, back when he was a force to be reckoned with; his heir apparent, Garrett Whitlock, is getting the same mistreatment from Boston bats now.
There are, of course, exceptions. Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw are both getting solid run support this season, averaging over 6 runs per game from the Mets and Dodgers lineups, respectively. Then there’s Shohei Ohtani getting 7.1 RS/IP, though it doesn’t seem fair to include him, seeing as he has the advantage of being able to give himself run support. Meanwhile, Wheeler through five games? 2.8 run support average, and it’s only that high because the Phillies scored seven runs in one of his games.
Run support is measured two ways: RS/GS, which is runs scored per 27 outs (an entire 9-inning game), and RS/IP (per innings), which is runs scored only during the innings the pitcher was actually in the game. In Wednesday’s game, the Phillies and Rangers shut each other out for nine innings, before the Rangers put up two in the 10th and the Phillies countered with one in the bottom of the frame before taking the loss.
Here’s how the Phillies’ rotation has fared so far:
- Ranger Suárez: 6.4 RS/GS, 6.4 RS/IP
- Zach Eflin: 5.5 RS/GS, 5.0 RS/IP
- Kyle Gibson: 5.0 RS/GS, 4.2 RS/IP
- Aaron Nola: 3.3 RS/GS, 1.9 RS/IP
- Zack Wheeler: 2.8 RS/GS, 2.1 RS/IP
Suárez’s run support/games started is tied for seventh-best among MLB starters, while Eflin’s is tied for fifteenth. At the other end of the spectrum, only 20 starting pitchers in the entire game are averaging lower run support than Wheeler.
This was Wheeler’s best start of the season so far, and one of many gems wasted since he signed with the club. He pitched 7 2/3 innings and shut out the Rangers. He allowed six hits and issued a walk, and it was his second consecutive scoreless start with seven strikeouts.
While it’s fair to say that some elite pitchers don’t get run support because they’re playing on ill-equipped teams, that certainly isn’t an excuse the Phillies are able to make. They have the highest payroll in franchise history because they added Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to a lineup that already had Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Rhys Hoskins. Factor in Alec Bohm finding his swing again, and it’s baffling that this lineup can’t give Wheeler the backup he deserves.