Before I get to the meat of this article, this isn’t being written as a way to say Zack Wheeler is better than Gerrit Cole. (Facebook will think I said this.) It’s written to say that Zack Wheeler isn’t chump change. That, we should be happy if the Yankees add him – regardless of Cole coming to the Bronx or not.
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We can play this game over and over again in our head. What if the Yankees had another reliable pitcher in the rotation during the ALCS? Let’s say, for game 6, we didn’t see overworked Chad Green but instead, fireballer Zack Wheeler walk into Houston?
Does an early three run home run happen? Does it even matter because the bats went to sleep anyway? Who knows. All I can think is: I am more confident the Yanks win that game. (And maybe those bats wake up if they don’t see an instant three runs come at them? I can’t say “who knows” enough.)
You see the idea of Zack Wheeler getting PooPoo’d on social media but, coming into 2020, wouldn’t you be a bit more comfortable knowing we have a guy like that on the bump every 5th day? Isn’t Zack Wheeler infinitely better than the weird carousel of bullpen games – which was great for a while before Nestor Cortes fell apart – and a guy in JA Happ who looks to be at the end of a long career?
The only correct answer is yes.
WHEELER IS GOOD
Remember at the end of the year when the Boston media wanted Mike Minor’s head on platter because he had the audacity to want his 200th strikeout? Well milestones are important to guys and, while the total number of a particular stat such as the home run or the K aren’t as important as they used to be in the grand scheme of player evaluation these days, this writer still has an affinity for them.
If you’re an Accumulation Stat person, you should like Wheeler. The last two years he has inched closer and closer to 200 K’s. In 2018 he had 179 K’s and in 2019 he was so, so, so close with 195.
Were Wheeler in the rotation last year, even with some of his regularly scheduled blow-ups he seemed to have in Flushing, he would have been one of our better arms to take the bump. Especially with Severino out and the team ailing for innings.
Let’s just compare him to our main guys in the rotation – sans Severino of course – to see where he’d rank. The following criteria I used is based off these charts on Fangraphs that determines what is league average. As you’ll see he sits between Average to Above Average in some pretty important places.
A lot see Zack Wheeler’s 3.96 ERA and think it’s nothing special. That doesn’t tell the whole story though. Wheeler had a 3.48 FIP in 2019. That discrepancy may or may not have had to do with the Mets being a bad defensive team in 2019.
According to the Mets blog Metsmorized, the team was abysmal in that category. This excerpt from their blog put in perspective just how bad they were.
“What really ended the Mets season was their poor defense. The Mets ranked second to last in MLB with -92 DRS. That’s the second-worst DRS by a team with a record over .500 since 2003, when Fangraphs started tracking DRS.
“The only team worse than them was the 2005 Yankees, who won 95 games with a -120 DRS. They lost to the Angles in the ALDS.
“The only team worse than the Mets this season was the Orioles. The Mets are the only team in the bottom five of the league in DRS with a winning record.”
Defense may have played a big part in the ballooning of Wheeler’s ERA. If you’re looking at FIP though, a more true metric as it pertains to defining a pitcher, well you got yourself a top notch guy. Take a look at the Baseball Savant breakdown of Wheeler’s season:
Other than Expected Batting Average where Wheeler sat at league average, he was above average to great in a lot of categories you’ll see here. The guy wasn’t getting hit hard at all and he has the ability to throw gas.
The Yankees were certainly a better defensive team than the Mets – granted it still wasn’t great. (-18 DRS on the year for the Bombers). Throw him on the field in the Bronx though and he might end up having better results for those fans who only like looking at ERA.
It would also be interesting to see how Wheeler would progress in the Sam Briend era in the Bronx too. Maybe with some of that ol’ Driveline tutelage, he can become top tier? We’ve seen the Gio Urshelas and Mike Tauchmans of the world play above their head for the Yanks. To see that in a Wheeler would be pretty savage as well.