Buy ‘Em or Deny ‘Em: Will Zack Wheeler Truly Emerge In Philadelphia, Or Is He Just A Mediocre Option?

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Zack Wheeler has consistently taunted fantasy owners, showing signs of emerging as a Top 20 starter but failing to consistently put it together.  His final season in New York was no different, after he struggled in the first half before putting together a strong finish:

  • First Half (119.0 IP) – 4.69 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
  • Second Half (76.1 IP) – 2.83 ERA, 1.23 WHIP

Overall he finished with a 3.96 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, and while it would be easy to point towards the luck metrics (.311 BABIP, 71.4% strand rate) there are also questions about his “skills”:

  • Strikeouts – 8.98 K/9
  • Control – 2.30 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 43.2%

Let’s take a look and figure out if there is any potential upside:

Strikeouts

While the number appears to be solid, there are going to be questions about his ability to maintain it considering an overall 10.4% SwStr%.  Just to push that further, look at his Whiff% among pitches that he threw at least 5% of the time:

  • Fourseam Fastball – 11.00%
  • Changeup – 12.54%
  • Slider – 12.68%
  • Curveball – 11.50%

It’s nice that he can get swings and misses with any of his pitches and increased his velocity (96.7 mph on his fastball), but he also lacks that true strikeout pitch that he can lean on.  While he’ll continue to get strikeouts, it makes it hard to emerge as an elite option.

Control

Always his most questionable skill, Wheeler began showing signs in 2018 (BB/9 of 1.80 and 2.05 in August and September) and carried that into 2019.  It makes you believe that he truly has unlocked it, and even at a 2.50 BB/9 it’s a solid mark that should allow him to continue posting a strong WHIP.

Groundballs

This is where things truly get questionable.  While he hasn’t struggled with home runs in the past, he also has lacked the ability to continually generate groundballs (46.5% for his career).  Could the move to Philadelphia help his home run rate rise significantly (1.01 HR/9 in ’19)?  It wouldn’t be a surprise, and without an elite strikeout rate that’s a risk that can’t be overlooked.

At the end of the day there continues to be value for Wheeler, who should be able to post results similar to what he did in 2019.  At the same time there has often been hope that he could take that next step and truly emerge.   If that’s not the case just how much upside is there really?  He’s a solid option, more in the SP3 range, as opposed to that potential fantasy ace.  If someone is willing to pay that type of elite price, don’t be shy to cash in.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

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