In his rookie season as a Met, Zack Wheeler made some noise.
Fans had been counting down the days to Wheeler’s debut since the top prospect was acquired for Carlos Beltran in 2011. Immediately, high expectations were placed on him, with comparisons to Matt Harvey, albeit unfairly.
How Wheeler Did on the Mound:
Wheeler finished the year with a record of 7-5 in 17 games, and an ERA of 3.42 with 84 strikeouts. In his 100 innings, he walked 46 and had a 1.36 WHIP. He also limited batters to a .243 average.
In mid-June, he made his highly anticipated debut against his hometown team, the Atlanta Braves, pitching 6 scoreless innings. While it was apparent he was nervous and his command was off, walking 5, he also struck out 7 batters.
Over his next few starts, Wheeler showed signs of growing pains, with many walks still present. There were even whispers of him tipping his pitches. However, as the season progressed, fans watched as he matured and emerged into a major league pitcher. Even his command and mound presence improved.
On July 30th, in one of his best starts of the season, he flirted with a no-hitter against the Marlins. He also pitched a gem against the Nationals in mid-September, throwing 7 innings of 1-run ball with 6 strikeouts.
Wheeler’s season was cut short on September 21st after feeling stiffness in his shoulder following what would be his final start. He is set to resume throwing around Christmastime.
Areas to Improve On:
Wheeler still has plenty of room to improve. He never pitched more than 7 innings in a game, and he only had two quality starts. While his command did get better, he ended the season with a subpar 4.1 BB/9 ratio, which can be attributed to his struggle with his curveball and changeup. According to Mark Simon of ESPN, Wheeler only threw these pitches for strikes about half the time. In fact, his curveball strike rate ranked 11th worst among pitchers who made 10 starts and threw at least 100 curves. Mastering his pitches will be key to a successful 2014 campaign.
Projected Role in 2014:
Prior to 2013, Wheeler had never pitched more than 149 innings in a season, when he did so between the AA Binghamton Mets and the AAA Buffalo Bisons in 2012. This year, Wheeler pitched 168.2 innings between AAA Las Vegas and the Mets. Next year, we can look forward to seeing him pitch his first full season in the majors, eyeing 200 innings. At that point, he will likely be shut down, similar to the handling of Matt Harvey before his season-ending injury.
Contract Status and Chances of Being Traded:
When it comes to building a team for next year, Sandy Alderson’s approach this offseason is partially contingent upon whether or not Matt Harvey will have Tommy John Surgery. Alderson is a firm believer in rotation depth, which the Mets have with the likes of Wheeler and Harvey, as well as pitching prospects such as Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom.
Last week in the New York Daily News, Andy Martino explored possible trade opportunities involving Wheeler. Among his suggestions were a trade to the Rays in exchange for David Price, provided he signs a contract extension, as well as a trade for the White Sox’ Chris Sale.
Last offseason, Alderson refused to give Wheeler up in order to get Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks. While I do not think Wheeler is untouchable, I would not like to see him traded unless a team overwhelms the Mets with an offer. The roster does have many holes, so if giving up one of their many pitchers, like Wheeler, means receiving an outfielder or a shortshop, I am all for it.