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Blue Jays Opposing Pitcher Report: Zach Wheeler

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ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 24: Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on April 24, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 24: Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on April 24, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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On Wednesday, May 16, the Blue Jays finish the away half of their 4-game season series against the New York Mets. The Mets will send Zach Wheeler to the hill while the Blue Jays will call on J.A. Happ.

Zach Wheeler began the season on the roster of the Mets’ AAA-affiliate, the Las Vegas 51s. However, the Mets called him up after just one start. Wheeler also missed the end of the season last year with a stress fracture in his right elbow.

After returning from the minor leagues, Wheeler has been mediocre for the Mets. Through six starts, the righty has posted a 5.03 ERA, 2-2 record, and 0.4 fWAR. The Mets are hoping that Wheeler can turn these numbers around and return to the form he had in 2014. If he does come around, the Mets could complete a very dominant rotation with Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard.

Wheeler features a fastball predominantly, but also mixes in a change-up, slider, and curveball. Interestingly, Wheeler has not used his sinker this year. In past years, he used his sinker second- and third-most. Currently holding a good groundball rate of 51.5%, it is quite surprising that Wheeler does not feature a sinker.

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The fastball is far-and-away Wheeler’s favourite pitch, in terms of use rate. The big righty will fire home fastballs 61.5% of the time, while averaging an above average velocity of 94.4 mph. Interestingly, with the added effect of spin rate, the fastball is perceived to move a full mph faster, at 95.4 mph.

A distant second in terms of use rate, Wheeler’s slider is featured just 14.4% of the time while averaging an incredibly hard 89.5 mph. His slider has been great at producing ground balls this season. Currently, the slider has produced ground balls on 64.71% of balls in play. Wheeler’s slider has also limited fly balls to a rate of 5.88% on balls in play. Opposing batters have posted a BA against the slider of just .091. However, Wheeler’s BABIP against the Slider, .118, suggests that the righty has gotten lucky recently.

Wheeler will change speeds on batters 12.8% of the time. However, the change-up is still quite hard, at an average velocity of 87.6 mph. The change-up is second to the fastball in terms of producing strikeouts. This year, the off speed pitch has produced seven strikeouts while the fastball has produced 15. Also, Wheeler has started to mix in a splitter this year.

Wheeler completes the offerings with a curveball that approaches the plate at an average velocity of 78.3 mph. This season, opposing batters hold a batting average of .300 against the curve. However, the hook has allowed just one extra base hit—a double.

Wheeler has been above average in accumulating strikeouts and limiting home runs this year. Currently, his K/9 is a decent 8.21, and his K% is 20.5%. As well, his HR/9 is a good 1.06, while his HR/FB, 12.5%, suggests that this number will continue to drop over time. Interestingly, Wheeler has only given up home runs on his primary pitch, the fastball.

Wheeler has been susceptible to the free pass this year. Currently his BB% is a below average 9.3% while his BB/9 is a similarly disappointing 3.71. However, this is a part of Wheeler’s game and is unlikely to change. For example, when Wheeler was worth a good 2.6 fWAR in 2014, he posted a BB/9 of 3.84.

Similar to Syndergaard, Tuesday’s starter, the Blue Jays have limited to no experience against Wheeler. Only Josh Donaldson and Yangervis Solarte have had any at bats against the Georgia native. Donaldson has a hit and strikeout in two at-bats, and Solarte has managed a walk and a single in two plate appearances against Wheeler.

The Wheeler start could be important for the Blue Jays. They need to get back to their winning ways before their season slowly slips away from them. Despite having limited experience against the righty, Wheeler has not been great this year. The Blue Jays will look to accumulate walks and hit in clutch opportunities to garner a win at Citi Field.

Next: Which "dead contract" has gotta go?

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