If there is one thing that the New York Mets have, its good young pitching. Unfortunately Matt Harvey will miss the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery; however, Zack Wheeler showed in his brief stint in 2013, that he is capable of helping to pick up the slack.
In 17 starts, the right-hander finished with a 7-5 record with a 3.42 ERA and a WHIP of 1.360. The sixth overall pick of the Giants (he was the traded to the Mets in which the Giants received Carlos Bletran) in the 2009 Amateur Draft, Wheeler doesn’t have a large sampling size (100 innings), but a couple of things will be an emphasis for Wheeler as the 2014 season gets under way.
First, Wheeler was very wild on occasion. He had 46 walks in his 17 starts last year and this included three games where he surrendered five walks, and another game where he handed out six free passes. He only had one start where he did not walk anyone. He did improve as the year went on, but 10.7% of the batters he faced reached base due to a walk. This would rank him second-highest in the majors if he had enough innings to qualify. That number is way too high for a big league pitcher expected to play a huge part in the starting rotation.
Because of his control issues, Wheeler struggled to go deep into games. High pitch counts were an issue and on only three occasions did he complete seven innings. However, Wheeler only failed to complete five innings on two occasions. Therefore, he did a pretty good job of bending, but not breaking. In 2014, as opposing players become more familiar with Wheeler, it’s probable that the wildness will come back to bite him.
As far as official projections for Wheeler in 2014 there are a lot of question marks. Considering his control problems 200 innings seems unlikely even with a full season of work. The Mets offense was terrible in 2013 and that often affects the performance of the starting pitcher. Win-loss record is vastly overrated, but a lot of times if a pitcher is not getting run support, his numbers will drop because they start to press and try to pitch too perfectly. Wheeler could fall into that trap; it’s possible his control will suffer just because of little run support as he will be trying too hard to keep runners off-base.
It’s a cop-out to base a pitcher’s projections primarily on the offensive lineup, however in Wheeler’s case its difficult to look at it objectively. With the small sample size and the mentioned question marks, Wheeler’s number could be great or they could be disappointing. A sophomore slump is a legitimate possibility and it remains to be seen how well Wheeler will fare during a complete season. The guys at Mets360.com were optimistic, yet fair with their projections for Wheeler in 2014: 179 IP, 3.48 ERA, 76 BB, and 12 outings of 7+ innings. The walks numbers could easily be higher in which case his innings would drop.
In any case, Wheeler has a great opportunity in 2014 to make a name for himself. He won’t be overshadowed by Harvey and he will be relied upon to contribute. The Mets have an outside chance to make a run at the playoffs (their offense is their biggest issue, and it’a a big issue) and Wheeler could prove to be that X-Factor.