Blue Jays Opposing Pitcher Report: Zack Wheeler

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 27: Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets pitches in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field on June 27, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 27: Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets pitches in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field on June 27, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

On Tuesday, July 3, the Blue Jays will begin a short two-game series against the New York Mets. While the series will mostly be about Jose Bautista’s return to Toronto, Marco Estrada will counter Zack Wheeler in the first game.

Zack Wheeler added his name to a long list of young pitchers that have undergone Tommy John surgery. It is terrible, and sad, to see how many pitchers have to go under the knife these days. By many people’s estimates, and Wheeler’s own opinion, this has been because of the increased focus on velocity.

With more specialization, and more intense pressure to be drafted high, pitchers are working from an extremely young age to add velocity—in effect overworking and exhausting their arms. However, if there is any upside in the right-hander’s surgery, he now throws his fastball harder than he had in the past.

Wheeler told Dan Toman of theScore about his diagnosis:

"“Honestly, I’ve had pain in that spot in my elbow since I got drafted, since before I got drafted. Every guy who throws hard is eventually going to have it—more than likely.”"

This increased velocity has helped him a little bit, but not a lot. Through 15 starts the right-handed hurler has posted a 4.47 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 1.331 WHIP, and 85 ERA+. In total, he has been worth a decent 1.5 fWAR.

For a pitcher that had to endure a painful surgery, mostly as a result of his fastball usage, the righty still loves his fastball. However, along with the fastball, he will mix in a slider, curveball, change-up, and splitter.

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The four-seamer dominates the starter’s repertoire, registering a high use rate of 59.9%. The fastball, as referenced, has been quite fast, maintaining an average velocity of 96.27 mph—for reference, that is about 1 mph faster than last year. The right-hander’s heater also maintains some natural arm-side fade, making it even harder to hit. However, batters have not struggled against the pitch this year, posting a .277 BAA with eight home runs and five doubles.

Wheeler has thrown his hard slider 17.4% of the time this year. The slider maintains a very quick 91.38 mph—an average velocity above Marco Estrada’s fastball—with natural cut and drop to the glove side. Interestingly, the slider has only resulted in 51 strikeouts. Despite this, the slider has still been excellent, posting a .186 BAA and .237 SLGA.

The right-handed hurler has broken off curveballs 10.1% of the time this season. The hook averages a decently quick 79.82 mph while maintaining good 12-6 movement. The righty’s big breaker has been excellent this season, posting a .231 BAA and .269 SLGA. As well, the pitcher’s curve has resulted in whiffs on 32% of swings.

The Mets’ starter completes his pitching repertoire with occasional change-ups and splitters. The change and splitter have been used 8.8% and 3.4% of the time, respectively. The change has been mediocre, posting a .265 BAA and six walks. However, the splitter has resulted in a good 35.48% whiff/swing rate and has allowed just one extra-base hit this season.

It’s hard not to root for a guy that survived Tommy John surgery at such a young age. That’s why it’s great to see that Wheeler is poised for a bounce-back second half of the season. Through this point in the season, he has allowed a 24.7% soft contact rate and 44.4% ground ball rate. Together, these numbers should create a fair amount of outs. However, he has posted a.308 BABIP. The right-hander’s FIP suggests that his skill matches a 3.67 ERA, not a 4.47 ERA—which he currently holds. This large discrepancy is likely a result of the terrible Mets defence.

The twenty-eight-year-old has concerning strikeout and walk numbers, though. At the midpoint of this season, he has posted an average 22.6% K-rate and 8.73 BB/9. However, he has also managed a below average 8.4% BB-rate and 3.25 BB/9.

The Blue Jays batters have very limited experience against the Georgia native, but six hitters have hits. The best on the team, Justin Smoak, has managed two hits, a double and home run, in three career at-bats. As well, Teoscar Hernandez owns one home run in two at-bats. However, Randal Grichuk is hitless in three at-bats with one strikeout.

Next: Blue Jays: This is Pillar’s year for a Gold Glove award

The Blue Jays have not drawn a tough match-up on the surface with Wheeler. Despite this, Blue Jays fans should not doubt Wheeler, he still has excellent stuff—that is due to play even better. Marco Estrada will also look to bounce back after a rough start last time out.