Matthew Cerrone, Lead Writer
Earlier this week, I jokingly wrote: “Sandy Alderson, can you ask Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard to start sleeping in a TempurPedic MRI machine, encased in ice and wrapped in Styrofoam? Thanks.”
This would be funnier if it wasn’t based in a legit fear for how much of this team’s future is now riding on Wheeler. It could also make for an interesting time to talk with him about a contract extension. Seriously… Think Matt Moore, and the five-year, $14 million deal he signed with the Rays after just a handful of major league start. Moore’s deal also included three club options that could extend the deal to eight years and $40 million, buying in to his free agency. It was a opportunistic deal for both sides, given the mystery that surrounds big-league pitching.
Maggie Wiggin, Contributor
With the likely loss of Matt Harvey for the entire 2014 season, it’s hard not to feel deflated when thinking about the excitement of this team’s young rotation. Harvey is the kind of elite ace that can’t really be replaced. However, a glimmer of hope exists in the continued emergence of Wheeler as a front-end starter…
In his his last four starts, Wheeler has a 2.45 ERA, ever more impressive given that all three runs charged to him on August 20 scored after he left the game.
His WHIP over this stretch is just 1.15 and his K/BB ratio is 5.6, showing that he’s been very effective at limiting baserunners and improving his control.
This improvement is reflected in his recent efficiency as he has gone six or more innings in each of these games and is averaging almost 6 1/3 IP per start going back to July 25th. The ability to go deep into games is very valuable for any starter, but especially one who will be relied upon as a stabilizing force in a rotation and looked at as one of the key pieces of the pitching staff. This is a big turnaround as his long innings and shaky control were the biggest concerns when he first came up.
Monday night’s strong performance should also put to rest any questions about Wheeler’s mental toughness. Mere hours after devastating news about his friend and colleague, with enormous pressure suddenly resting on his shoulders, he delivered one of his top outings of the season and showed as much poise and comfort on the mound as we’ve seen. Through just 13 major league starts, we’ve seen the rookie grow in leaps and bounds as far as confidence goes and it’s showing in how he’s been attacking the zone more and letting his great stuff do the work for him.
Wheeler has matched his effectiveness with durability as the season as gone one. Despite already matching his innings pitched from last year, his average velocity has stayed up for all four of his pitches and he’s getting as good movement on them as we’ve seen. His swinging strike and contact rates are getting better and better, which is a big part of his newfound efficiency. He still has to throw more first-pitch strikes, but he’s shown a lot of improvement there as well.
Wheeler is not Harvey, and as we look ahead to a possible Harvey-less 2014, it’s more important than ever to keep that in mind. But with a gaping hole at the top of the rotation, the Mets will be looking at all of their young pitchers to take steps forward and elevate their game. With Wheeler’s sky-high ceiling, he has the most potential of anyone on the team to take ownership of the No. 1 starter spot and if the trajectory of his time in the big leagues thus far is any indication, he has every chance to do just that.