by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
It was a breakout second half for the Mets’ Zack Wheeler, though no one should reasonably expect him to replicate his 1.68 ERA or 0.81 WHIP in 2019. Forget the actual numbers, does the success indicate that he could produce like a Top 40 starting pitcher moving forward? Or should we expect him to regress to the point that he’ll be significantly overvalued in 2019 drafts?
Before we can answer that, let’s first look at his overall production:
179 Strikeouts (8.84 K/9)
55 Walks (2.71 BB/9)
44.2% Groundball Rate
When coupled with a 74.6% strand rate there isn’t anything unbelievable in his luck metrics. The real key to his success was opponents inability to square up the baseball, posting a 24.8% Hard%. That is among the best in the league, which alone makes you think that it would be unsustainable.
Wheeler opted to shelve his sinker, instead throwing his fourseam fastball significantly more (37.22% in ’17 to 58.28%) while slowly incorporating a split-finger fastball (5.88%). It’s a change that makes sense, after opponents hit .348 with a .598 SLG against his sinker in ’17, but is that really enough of a change to justify the tiny Hard%? That’s a tough sell, and again would make you think that a regression would be coming.
His strikeout rate was not unreasonable overall, coming courtesy of a 10.7% SwStr%. Maybe there’s a slight regression towards the 8.50ish K/9 range? That’s not a significant drop and shouldn’t have a impact on our outlook. He also has consistently done a good job of generating popups (13.4%), which would help to limit the damage.
A 0.69 HR/9, with similar success at home (0.65 HR/9) and on the road (0.74 HR/9), is the bigger concern. Hardly a groundball machine, he struggled to a 1.56 HR/9 over 86.1 IP in his first season back in 2017 and really saw the number shrink in the second half of ’18 (0.36 HR/9). Assuming the Hard% rises, in turn there should be more home runs and that obviously has a negative effect.
You put that all together and you get the following projection for 2019:
200.0 IP, 14 W, 3.65 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 193 K (8.69 K/9), 63 BB (2.84 BB/9)
We all know the second half numbers aren’t repeatable, and overall we’d expect a few more balls to be hit against him with authority. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t prove worthy of being considered a viable fantasy option moving forward. He’s not going to be a SP1 or SP2, but a SP3/4 type? That’s not an unreasonable expectation. It’s possible his draft day value rises a bit too high, especially given the second half numbers, but in general he should hold ample value moving forward.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball