Zack Wheeler has gotten off to a bumpy start in 2014, but there’s no need to panic just yet. Wheeler is a major part of the young core of starting pitchers the New York Mets are counting on to bring them to the promised land in the near future.
So far this year, he’s been inconsistent. In his first eight starts, he’s 1-3 with a 4.53 ERA. His main issue has been control. He’s walked an average of 4.9 batters per nine innings, and already has four wild pitches. In his last start against the New York Yankees in the Bronx, he fell behind hitters all night, walked six, and had to be removed after throwing 118 pitches in 4.1 innings. Even in his previous outing, in which he gave up no runs over six innings, he still walked five batters. He’s only had one start this year with no walks.
Wheeler is a long, lanky 6-foot-4. He has a lot of motion in his mechanics, partially as a result of his build. He generates power by whipping his right arm, which has led to an inconsistent release point. He also seems to get a little too pumped at the beginning of the game. Often, Wheeler is throwing 97 miles per hour in the first inning, only to have his velocity dip to 93-94 MPH in the middle innings. When Wheeler is at his best, his fastball velocity starts in the mid-90s and stays there throughout the game. Simply put, when he doesn’t overthrow, he has much better command.
The good news is, these are things he can learn with experience. He only has 25 major league starts under his belt, and he’s 23 years old. Most ballplayers don’t reach their prime until they turn 26 or 27. Wheeler has great raw stuff, and a team simply shouldn’t give up on a pitcher in his early twenties who throws mid-90s fastballs with plus secondary offerings. Anybody remember Nolan Ryan? He was another young, wild, hard-throwing right-hander. The Mets gave up on him when he was 24, and the rest is history.
Of course, Ryan is an extreme example, and a unique pitcher in the history of baseball, but he’s an illustration of why you have to be patient with young, hard-throwing pitchers. And that’s how the Mets should handle Zack Wheeler — with patience.