Ben Berkon, Contributor to MetsBlog.com:
New York Mets’ fans apparently aren’t the only people excited about the organization’s future. In a recent interview with NY Daily News, Zack Wheeler indicated that his strong preference would be to stay in New York long term.
“I’d like to be here,” Wheeler said. “[...] I know [trading young players is] part of the game, but I want to be here after the rebuilding.”
Since debuting in 2013, Wheeler has solidified his place atop the Mets’ rotation. The 24-year-old owns a career 3.44 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 3.77 xFIP), and a 2.12 strikeouts-to-walks ratio over his first 264.1 innings.
Yet, Wheeler’s anticipated “ace” ceiling hasn’t evolved as quickly as rotation-mate Matt Harvey’s. The righty has also proven to be below-average in the control department, surrendering a career 3.95 walks-per-nine-innings ratio.
Despite of how commonplace pre-arbitration extensions have become, would extending Zack Wheeler after the season still be a premature move for the Mets?
Regardless of his projected abilities, to Wheeler’s credit, the right-hander has made impressive strides in 2014.
In particular, Wheeler has focused on cutting down his free passes this season. The pitcher has seen his walks-per-nine-innings drop from 4.14 to a more respectable 3.83 clip.
But the right-hander is also becoming a smarter pitcher, too. Wheeler has witnessed a 10.7 percent spike in ground balls this season, rolling grounders at a 53.9 percent rate. In fact, the hurler’s improved ground-ball rate ranks 13th amongst major-league starting pitchers.
Wheeler’s new-found ability to induce ground balls isn’t an anomaly, however. The right-hander has noticeably been pounding the bottom section of the strike zone throughout 2014.
Zack Wheeler has thrown 53.1 percent of his pitches in the bottom section of the strike zone this season—which is a 6.0 percent bump.
The power righty’s utilization of his defense hasn’t affected his strikeout total, either. Wheeler has actually struck out more batters-per-nine-innings in 2014 than he did last season. And even though Wheeler’s 94.6 average-mile-per-hour fastball is on par with 2013, opposing hitters are whiffing at 0.9 percent more pitches.
Along with finding an elite bat (or two), general manager Sandy Alderson should prioritize extending Wheeler this offseason.
In terms of compensation, Wheeler matches up well with recently extended Atlanta Braves’ pitcher Julio Teheran:
|Player||Service Yrs||Age||ERA||FIP||ERA+||K/BB||Ext. Year|
*represents Wheeler’s service years after the 2014 season.
Like Wheeler, Teheran only accrued slightly more than a “service” year of experience before signing his six-year, $32.5 million extension. The Braves were also smart enough to include a team option for 2020—which could make the entire contract worth a mere $44.5 million over seven years.
Alternatively, Alderson and the Mets could instead decide to go year-to-year with their potential ace. But even the risk of an arm injury wouldn’t outweigh the inevitable bounty Wheeler will certainly make as a free agent come 2020.
Extending young players is no longer an idyllic symbol of loyalty or faith as it perhaps was in front offices of yesteryear. Particularly for an organization that has become so financially apprehensive, extending Zack Wheeler for the next six or seven years would simply be prudent economics—or for the Wilpons’ sake, a quick way to save cash.
Ben Berkon’s work has been published on Huffington Post, The Onion, and various other mainstream sites. Make sure to follow him @BenBerkon.