Zack Wheeler Debuts With Mixed Reviews

USA TODAY Sports

Highly touted prospect Zack Wheeler debuted for the Mets last night in Atlanta, here's a look inside the numbers.

Matt Harvey is a tough act to follow, but that was the task given to the Mets' top pitching prospect on Tuesday night in Atlanta. Zack Wheeler, who was ranked as the 11th best prospect by Baseball America prior to the season, struggled at times but flashed the electric stuff that scouts had been raving about.

Wheeler was handed a tough assignment for his MLB debut: the Atlanta Braves, who rank 4th in team BB% (9.2%), and 12th in O-Swing% (29.5%). (via FanGraphs)

Pitch Statistics as coded by the Automatic MLBAM Gameday Algorithm
Pitch Type Avg Speed Max Speed Avg H-Break Avg V-Break Count Strikes / % Whiffs / % SNIPs / % Linear Weights
FF (FourSeam Fastball) 96.15 98.35 -5.25 7.78 71 39 / 54.93% 12 / 16.90% 29 / 47.54% -1.3948
CH (Changeup) 86.33 87.25 -8.00 5.92 2 2 / 100.00% 0 / 0.00% 1 / 100.00% -0.2852
SL (Slider) 89.37 91.23 0.89 1.97 15 8 / 53.33% 1 / 6.67% 6 / 46.15% 0.4015
CU (Curveball) 77.89 80.71 5.68 -6.42 12 4 / 33.33% 0 / 0.00% 3 / 27.27% 0.1750
FC (Cutter) 90.38 90.38 0.80 1.74 2 2 / 100.00% 1 / 50.00% 2 / 100.00% -0.3208
Pitch classifications provided by the Automatic MLBAM Gameday Algorithm.

Thanks to the amazing Brooks Baseball for the chart

Taking a look at the data compiled by Brooks Baseball, Wheeler leaned heavily on his four-seam fastball, throwing it 69.6% of the time. He struggled with control throughout the night, with only 54.9% of his fastballs finding the zone.

Wheeler also struggled to throw his secondary offerings for strikes. Lack of command on the slider, which he threw 15 times only finding the zone with eight, struck me as a cause for concern. As you can see on the chart above, Wheeler's slider often failed to break significantly enough to be an effective pitch. The system also indicated that he threw two cutters, which is a pitch he was not previously known to possess. Given the similarity in H-Break and V-Break, as well as velocity, I think it's reasonable to assume the two pitches that showed up as cutters were, in reality, rogue sliders.

Including the two "cutters", Wheeler threw 28 breaking balls throughout the night with only 46.4% of them finding the zone.

Wheeler still managed a pretty solid debut outing despite his struggles with command and control. In six scoreless innings, he scattered four hits and fanned seven batters. I was impressed with the composure he showed while working out of the jams created, at least in part, by the five walks he issued.

Wheeler earned his first major league win, which doesn't mean anything to most of us, but undoubtedly was a special moment for the 23-year-old and the legion of friends and family who made the 33 mile trip from Dallas, Georgia.

Due to the new rule that allows teams to call up a 26th man for doubleheaders, Wheeler was sent back down to AAA following the game, but the Mets plan is to call him up again in time for his next turn in the rotation. I suggest that he uses the time in between starts to work on holding runners on base; the Braves stole three bases on Wheeler's watch.

Zack Wheeler has a chance to be a solid major league pitcher if he can manage his command and control issues. After just one start, he's landed alongside teammate Matt Harvey on the list of pitchers that I'll go out of my way to watch.

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