Sep 19

Wheeler Leaves Us Wanting More

There is something about Zack Wheeler that leaves you – and the New York Mets – wanting more.

Tonight he threw his 21st quality start of the season; defined as at least six innings with three or fewer runs.

WHEELER: Needs to cut pitches. (Getty)

WHEELER: Needs to cut pitches. (Getty)

Wheeler struck out seven in six scoreless inning, and Carlos Torres, Jeurys Familia and Buddy Carlyle combined to retire the final 13 Atlanta hitters in the 5-0 victory.

Even so, in this age of counting pitches, Wheeler threw 105 pitches in those six innings. Sure, as a strikeout pitcher he’ll run up the pitch count, but in exchange for at least one more inning I’d give up a few strikeouts.

Is Wheeler a great pitcher? At l1-10 with a 3.51 ERA it is too soon to tell, but he is 8-2 over his last 15 starts.

For Wheeler and the Mets – who were officially eliminated from playoff contention Friday – to reach the next level, it is imperative for him to go further with his pitch count.

Only twice in 31 starts did Wheeler complete at least seven innings, and 11 other times he worked into the seventh.

Am I being too picky? Probably so, but the Mets have been boasting about Wheeler, and to completely buy into what they are saying, he needs to at least go seven.

Nobody is asking for complete games, but seven isn’t much to ask for a player being touted as an ace.

 

Mar 14

Questions Remain Throughout Rotation

The New York Mets had a vision entering spring training as to the makeup of their rotation. However, that’s not to say there aren’t questions. Name a starter and I’ll give you questions and issues.

The expected rotation is comprised of Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler and Daisuke Matsuzaka; none considered an “ace’’ in the traditional sense. Realistically, none would be higher than a No. 3 when their career numbers are examined.

NIESE: It starts with him. (AP)

NIESE: It starts with him. (AP)

Not really the stuff of 90-win teams.

There was to be competition for the fifth-starter role between Matsuzaka, John Lannan and Jenrry Mejia, but based on how he closed last year, Matsuzaka has the edge.

Mejia has thrown well and seems healthy enough to warrant the opportunity. That begs the question: If not now, then when?

Let’s take a look at the rotation and potential issues with each starter:

JON NIESE: He’s never won more than 13 games, and enters No. 1. Niese has a history of injuries and only twice since 2008 started as many as 30 games. He missed time last year with a rotator cuff issue, and a MRI this spring revealed weakness in his shoulder. He didn’t pitch well in his only start, and has thrown only two innings. The goal is 30 for most starters, but with three starts remaining, he won’t come close.

BARTOLO COLON: He’s 40, so there’s always the inevitable possibility of breaking down. Colon won 18 games and pitched 190.1 innings in 2013, but what are the odds of doing it again? I would say longer than an Ike Davis slump. He’s signed to a two-year contract. Breakdowns occur with 40-year old pitchers. Who is to say it won’t be this year?

DILLON GEE: He turned last season around in a May 30 start against the Yankees and finished 12-11 with 199 innings. However, he was close to being bumped from the rotation prior to that Yankee Stadium start. Gee’s career high was 13 victories in 2011. Gee is grit and guile, but is throwing hard this spring. Even so, his career numbers indicate a No. 4 starter. Assuming all works out with Matt Harvey’s recovery and the development of Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard, aren’t we talking about him being out of the rotation next year?

ZACK WHEELER: He worked 100 innings last season before he was shut down. Ideally, the Mets would like to double that number. That’s a huge increase, even considering the 68.2 innings he pitched for Triple-A Las Vegas. Wheeler won seven games in 2013 and the Mets need him to double it, which is a lot. Wheeler has loads of potential, but they need proven production.

DAISUKE MATSUZAKA:  He won 15 and 18 games, respectively, his first two seasons in the majors with Boston in 2007-8, but never more than nine in the subsequent five years (2010). Pitching coach Dan Warthen got him to speed up his delivery, which lead to him closing the year with three strong starts, working at least six innings in each. That’s a small sample. What isn’t a small sample are the last five years, in which he threw more 60 innings only once.

Factoring all that, just what was Sandy Alderson thinking saying this was a 90-win potential season? Considering the fragility of Niese and Colon, Wheeler’s inexperience and Matsuzaka’s inconsistency, it isn’t hard to imagine it won’t be long before we see Mejia, Syndergaard or Rafael Montero.

ON DECK: Niese’s war on Twitter

 

Feb 18

Mets’ Zack Wheeler Likes Low Profile

One of the highlights for the New York Mets last season was a double-header sweep of Atlanta anchored by future aces Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.

If you weren’t reading about Harvey last summer you were reading about Wheeler. This spring most of the ink is going to Noah Syndergaard, whom the Mets expect will be in the major leagues in June.

WHEELER: That night in Atlanta.

WHEELER: That night in Atlanta.

“That’s fine with me,’’ Wheeler told reporters Tuesday in Port St. Lucie when asked about the spotlight being on Syndergaard. “I don’t have to have all the attention.’’

Actually, in Wheeler’s perfect world, he would rather have little, if any. Wheeler is extremely quiet and shy, and if given the choice, he’d rather not talk if he didn’t have to.

Wheeler was 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA last season in 17 starts. Manager Terry Collins doesn’t presently see an innings limit on Wheeler, and believes his composure and natural stuff will enable him to progress.

Collins said at the Winter Meetings Harvey showed he could make adjustments on the run and thinks Wheeler has that same capability.

Wheeler was matter-of-fact when asked today what he needs to do to improve: “Just being more consistent, throwing more strikes and stuff.’’

Ask any veteran pitcher and he’d say the same thing. That’s one of the things the Mets like about Wheeler.

 

Jan 22

What Can Mets Expect From Zack Wheeler?

What exactly should the New York Mets realistically expect from Zack Wheeler this summer?

He was 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 17 starts last year, and to double the victories would be a good progression especially if his starts were doubled to 34. What is unfair would be to think he’s have a Matt Harvey type season, one in which he captured the imagination of the city and made the All-Star team.

WHEELER: What can we expect?

WHEELER: What can we expect?

I’m not in agreement with those who debunk the traditional pitching statistics of victories and ERA, which have been fair measuring sticks for over 100 years. Just because something has been a staple for a century-plus does not make it outdated or obsolete.

Victories mean games won, and isn’t that the objective of the sport – to win games? I realize the game has changed and pitchers don’t throw complete games anymore, but even with limited innings, getting a “W’’ means you kept your team in the game. How is that not important?

If Wheeler can increase his victories by one a month, that’s six over the course of the season, and 13 total for the year. I’d take that for starters.

An ERA measures runs allowed, which is vastly more important for a starter, because even a few runs over a short number of innings greatly inflates a reliever’s ERA.

If Wheeler duplicates last year’s ERA, especially with an increase over last season’s 100 innings it would be more than acceptable. Manager Terry Collins suggested during the Winter Meetings 200 innings for Wheeler isn’t out of the question, but an innings limit hasn’t been ruled out.

What Harvey accomplished last year prior to his injury was exceptional, but that was his achievement, not Wheeler’s. Wheeler is unique in his own right and to say he’ll be just as dominant is unfair.

For now, I just don’t want to see a regression, just some improvement to suggest he’s heading in the right direction.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Dec 15

Collins Is Hopeful That Wheeler Will Toss 200 Innings

WHEELER: High hopes for him.

WHEELER: High hopes for him.

As of now, the New York Mets don’t anticipate an innings limitations on Zack Wheeler, who was shut down for his last two starts in 2013. Wheeler threw 100 innings last year and said an innings limit hasn’t been determined, and if one is later on, it won’t be until after the season starts.

“We haven’t talked about [an innings limit],’’ manager Terry Collins said. “He should get over 200 if he goes out there 30?something times.  If he does that, he would have a heck of a year. When you’re getting those kinds of innings, you’re keeping your team in games.’’

Hopefully, that thinking won’t change and the Mets will not put the shackles on Wheeler, who won’t learn how to pitch on this level unless he does so.

Pitchers today wear down when they don’t accumulate innings. If a pitcher doesn’t build up his arm, he won’t have anything in the tank when he needs it. There are times when a pitcher has to learn to pitch in the eighth and ninth innings, when he’s running on fumes, when he just has to reach down.

Wheeler had his rough moments last summer, such as when he went away from his fastball and told to work in more on his secondary pitches. When that approach was adjusted to where he could work more off his fastball, Wheeler pitched well.

Collins said he believes Wheeler’s demeanor and emotional make-up could allow him to make a jump similar to what Matt Harvey made last season before he injured. Collins said Harvey learned how to make adjustments within a game and thinks Wheeler can do likewise.

“I’m hoping he takes the Matt Harvey step,’’  Collins said. “[Wheeler] now realizes he can fix it.  He realized all he had to do was make things.  He didn’t have to overthrow.

“He’s still got that great arm if he needs it.  His command of his secondary pitches got better.  I think his confidence rose as the season went along.  Again, I think the sky is the limit for what potential this guy has.’’

Wheeler told ESPN Radio he plans on reporting to spring training around Feb. 5, which is ten days before the official reporting date for pitchers and catchers.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos