Zack Wheeler has experienced some ups and downs so far this season, but the New York Mets righty’s 5.40 ERA doesn’t tell the whole story.
On the surface, Zack Wheeler‘s first four starts of the 2017 season don’t look like much to write home about. The young New York Mets right-hander owns a 5.40 ERA and last night was the first time he pitched past the sixth inning. Nevertheless, a closer look reveals that the Mets can take encouragement from Wheeler’s first sampling of big league action in over two years.
Wheeler didn’t pitch at all in the 2015 and 2016 seasons as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. He had hoped to make a return late last year, but a mild flexor strain in his right arm quashed that possibility. It was a disappointing setback for a player ranked in the top 10 of minor league prospect lists by multiple outlets back in 2013.
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As spring training got underway, Wheeler showed expected signs of rust, managing a 5.11 ERA over 12.1 innings in four appearances. But he was healthy for the first time in recent memory, and the Mets placed him in the rotation to start the season.
He got off to an inauspicious beginning against the Marlins on April 7, allowing five runs on six hits in four innings. Wheeler’s following two outings opposite the Phillies were a step in the right direction. He didn’t give the Mets length, lasting five and two-thirds and five frames in each start, respectively. However, he successfully limited the damage, surrendering three runs on four hits and then just one run on four hits.
Sunday night’s match-up against the division rival Nationals looked like it was going to get ugly fast. Wheeler served up a first-inning grand slam to former Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, putting New York in an early 4-0 hole.
Though the Mets went on to drop the contest by a 6-3 score, extending their losing streak to four games and their margin in the NL East to 5.5 games behind the Nats, Wheeler pitched quite well after the nightmare first inning. He tossed six more frames, allowing no further runs and only three more hits. He took the loss but finished the evening with seven innings, four hits, four runs, two walks and six strikeouts.
Overall, Wheeler has some solid numbers on the season outside his ERA. His 3.73 FIP suggests he’s been on the end of some poor luck and things might start tilting his way in the future. His 1.11 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9 and 8.7 K/9 are all more than respectable and among his best marks in those categories thus far in his career.
Obviously we’re dealing with a small sample size here and things will change as the year progresses. But Wheeler has shown some promising signs that might be overshadowed by the 5.40 ERA.
The Mets reportedly have Wheeler on an innings limit in the low 100s. With 21.2 in the books, he’s already about one-fifth of the way there. In a perfect world, the team would love to see him keep improving and provide them consistently longer outings. But Wheeler’s long-term health comes first and it’s wise not to push him after over two years on the shelf.
The best thing he can do is make the most of the innings he gets, helping the Mets reverse their early-season doldrums and get back into the division race. Soon to be 27 years old, Wheeler still has a bright future ahead of him.