The numbers may not show it, but Mets starter Zack Wheeler has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past couple of months. The re-emergence of Zack Wheeler has certainly been one of the bright spots for the Mets in a disappointing season. So how exactly has Wheeler turn himself into this new, better pitcher from 2017?
He is Fully Finally Healthy
Wheeler has had his fair share of injuries to back-track his career. He tore the UCL in his right elbow during Spring Training in 2015, resulting in Tommy John surgery. Then in his first rehab start recovering from the injury, over a year later in August 2016, Wheeler again was injured, this time with a flexor strain. He missed the rest of the season.
After missing two years, Wheeler returned to the big leagues in April 2017, but he ended up missing more time due to biceps tendinitis and a stress reaction in his arm. Finally, in 2018 Wheeler is fully healthy and proving why he was once seen as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.
The Return of His Fastball
Wheeler has seen his velocity return to what he was throwing way back when. At times, we have seen Wheeler hit 99-100 MPH on his fastball. In the month of June, Wheeler averaged 96.3 MPH on his fastball, and for July he is now up to 96.8 MPH. According to baseballsavant, this is his highest mark since 2014.
As a result Wheeler is throwing his fastball more, as the mark is up from 41% of the time in 2017 to 48% of the time in 2018. With the increased trust, Wheeler is now effectively able to blow the fastball by hitters up in the zone.
Developed a Better Feel for Slider & Curve
Wheeler relies on four other pitches besides his fastball; slider, split-finger, curveball, and sinker. This year, he has been able to develop a much better feel for all of his breaking balls. The two that stand out in particular are both his slider and curve.
The curveball has been able to generate a 39.1% swing and miss rate, which is one of the best in baseball. And the sinker, hitters are chasing at a rate of 47.6% which is one of the highest chase marks of his career.
Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland preached at the beginning of the season that they will have their pitchers throw more breaking balls. It is certainly helping Wheeler, as the average exit velocity on hits against him is way down, and is in the top 4% in the league.
Zack Wheeler has turned himself into a nice middle of the rotation starter. He certainly isn’t going to be an ace, but he has pitched very well this year. Over 107 innings, he has a 4.44 ERA and 106 strikeouts. Wheeler is said to be the most likely Mets starter to be traded ahead of the deadline, but I think they should hold onto him. He has provided them with a ton of value, and at just 28 years old he could be a nice piece for the future.
*** all stats are via baseballsavant.mlb.com