FanGraphs this morning, Jeff Zimmerman posted an excellent piece about Zack Wheeler and the challenges that lie ahead for the young pitcher. In it, he outlines two areas which may send Wheeler's career in one direction or the other. Those areas were his walk rate and his risk of injury.
Zimmerman mentions that Wheeler was one of only four qualified starting pitchers to post a walk rate above 4.0/9IP (it was 4.1/9IP to be exact). I immediately thought to myself that Wheeler had a very good stretch of baseball during July and August. Surely it was the early nerves and tiring down the stretch that elevated that figure. Right?
To some extent that's correct. However, when I crunched the numbers I found that in July and August last season, a stretch during which Wheeler went 6-2 and threw 70 IP over the course of 11 starts, his walk ratio was still just shy of 3.1/9IP. That's still probably too high over the long run. Furthermore, there is history behind this concern as Zack pitched to a similar rate of 4.0/9IP throughout his minor league career.
To me the more immediate concern is actually his injury risk. It is long documented (Here, Here and Here) that his delivery is an issue. Not only does it impact his ability to throw strikes, but many insist it puts more strain on his arm. As Zimmerman points out, Wheeler's 2013 season was cut short by shoulder stiffness after throwing just 9 more innings than he did in 2012. That stiffness was preceded by a loss of velocity and command, more red flags.
The other thing to note is that Wheeler's immediate injury concerns lie in his shoulder, not his elbow. Historically, shoulder injuries have a much more significant impact on a pitcher's career (think Johan Santana). Walks or not, Wheeler is slotted in as a major part of the Mets future rotation. As we await the eventual return of Matt Harvey, who's smooth simple mechanics still resulted in Tommy John surgery, is it increasingly likely that another cataclysmic arm injury is on the horizon for one of the team's fresh faces?
I try not to dwell on injuries when it comes to pitchers because they are almost a given at some point in their careers, but Wheeler does appear more prone than others. Also noted by Zimmerman, Wheeler told ESPN that he plans to work on repeating his delivery in 2014. That may very well improve his command, but with his mechanics being what they are..he may only be delaying the inevitable.
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