Interest in Zack Wheeler and Ancient 2b

I have a lot of friends that are Mets fans, and who were obviously thrilled by their (ultimate) performance last year.  Really, what’s not to like about the Mets’ pitching staff?  There are only really two things that baffle me about the current Mets:
First, why is everyone so concerned with what free agent the Mets are going to sign (or trade for) to play second base?  Who should they sign? The answers, I think, should be ‘don’t be’ and ‘no one,’ respectively,  because they have Dilson Herrera back from a brief 2015 injury at AAA, who seems like a terrific option.  Yes, his 90 AB in 2015 with the Mets could have gone better, but his walk percentage was encouraging, and 90 AB is clearly a small sample size.  Herrera has a plus glove, a minor league career slash of .304/.369/.470, and put up .327/.382/.511 in 327 AB in AAA last season, sandwiched around his injury and his cup of coffee with the Mets.  He is also 21 years old, and basically costs nothing.  The speculation about trading for Brandon Phillips, who draws less walks than the average San Pedro De Marcoris  prospect (27 in 588 AB last year), and costs a mint ($14M, plus however else you would have to indulge him to waive his 10-5 rights), or Howie Kendrick, who would give them Murphy-like predictability, with a slight bump in defense, but who wants four years, also at a non-bargain price (he made $9.5M in 2015), and at age 32, seems panicky.  This is not to say that the Mets might not be willing to pay for a proven MLB second baseman, given their window of opportunity with their stud pitching staff, and there is an argument to be made that installing a gold glove shortstop at 2b (and as much as it pains me to admit it, Phillips’ glove has been stellar for many years (.991 2b fielding percentage or higher in all but 1 year since 2010)) would make their staff ever more fearsome, but given Herrera’s performance in the minors to date, I wouldn’t think that the Mets would want to block him for any significant period of time.
Second: Wheeler, Zack.  Everyone loves the Wheeler.  We heard incessantly on sports radio last year what a huge blow to the Mets’ staff it was to lose Wheeler to TJ last year, and how they will get a significant boost to the rotation with his return this year (IMO, at the time of his injury, Wheeler was at best the Mets’ 5th best starter or starter prospect behind DeGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard, Colon and was probably considered behind Matz talent wise, but almost assuredly would have gotten the nod on experience if it came down to those two, though it looked like the Mets were (very reasonably) inclined to let Matz spend a little more time in Las Vegas.  Having Niese as your 5th starter instead of Wheeler is not a particularly devastating blow to a major league pitching staff, though Wheeler is generally considered to have upside, where Niese is considered to have capped out on his potential.  Remember how when it looked like he had been traded, he called the Mets and asked them to not trade him, because he really wanted to be a Met, and then all of a sudden, he still was!  Everyone liked that – it seemed so loyal (not at all like a 25 year old  would rather live in New York City instead of Slinger County, Wisconsin (which is actually supposed to have a really good school system))!  Did I miss the part of Wheeler’s career when he was really good?  I must have, since he seems robustly ‘meh’ to me.
Really, don’t look it up yet – just see what your brain tells you.  What was Wheeler’s WHIP in 2014?  His career?  Actually, it’s higher than that.  His WHIP in 2014 was 1.327, and career is 1.339.  That’s not very good.  But surely, his minor league  WHIP was a lot better?  Well, no.  His WHIP in the minors IS better, but not by all that much, sitting at a serviceable, but not enticing, 1.275.   He issues walks like Nuke LaLoosh, with a minor league career average of 4BB/9IP, AND he is coming off TJ, which will sideline him essentially until the middle of his age 26 season, when, assuming his rehab goes swimmingly, we can reasonably look forward to him pitching at a 4th to 5th starter level, as he did prior to his injury.  And yet, everyone loves Zack Wheeler.
My good friend Bran David Marshall loves to point out that he had a ’10 game stretch where he was very good’ in 2014; it was actually 13 games, from July 30 – September 7, where he gave up no more than 3 earned runs in a game, and that only once, which IS a pretty solid run.  Now, this stretch was against fairly dismal teams – including Atlanta twice (79 wins), Miami twice (73 wins), Philadelphia twice (73 wins), Cincinnati (76 wins), San Diego (77 wins), Chicago Cubs (73 wins) and Texas (67 wins) once each, and one each against Milwaukee (82), Oakland (88) and Washington (96) – though I suppose you can only beat the teams you play, and with the exception of the Nats, everyone in the division was awful.  Even during that successful string of games, however, his underlying numbers were pretty pedestrian:  in 81 innings, Wheeler gave up 72 hits and 35 walks, for a WHIP of 1.32, which would seem to indicate that Zack probably got a little lucky with his results, runs allowed wise, and that barring something clicking in his pitching brain (or in the brain of a tuned in pitching coach), it is not really reasonable to expect that sort of result on a consistent basis.
I am not saying there isn’t potential with Wheeler.  He throws fire, over a strikeout per inning, career, and he has a clearly improvable area – cutting his walks in half makes him a very appealing property.  But saying cutting your walks in half would be a good thing, and actually cutting walks in half, which he has been unable to do at any minor league level, are two completely different matters.  It’s not like his walks spiked all of a sudden just before the arm injury – his walk rate has been steady and high all the way from A ball through the majors.  Obviously, the league seems to like his upside, though.  He was almost traded for Carlos Gomez last September (which seemed like a steal for the Mets to me, assuming Carlos’ hip doesn’t fall off), and he is generally seen as the key player in any Mets trade (I would suppose in part because he is the only Mets’ starter that they seem willing to part with that any other team is interested in).  Jim Bowden, in his trade article this morning, describing what the Rockies would get out of a CarGo-Wheeler/Nimmo trade, calls Wheeler “a top-of-the-rotation starter who profiles as the type of pitcher who could succeed at Coors Field.”  I mean, I guess that could be true, if the rotation you are speaking about is the Rockies’ awful array of starters, since Wheeler does historically limit HR effectively and had a 54% ground ball rate in 2014.  This gives me a little pause, since Bowden is generally considered to know what he is talking about, but sounds a lot more like the seller’s pitch Bowden would make if he were trying to peddle Wheeler to me.
Is it possible that Wheeler fully recovers, takes the Tom Seaver method to heart and throws first pitch strikes, and becomes a #2 guy?  Sure.  Matt Harvey got a million times better when he cut his walk rate in half in 2013.  But given his history of shaky control, the uncertainty of TJ recovery and the fact that the Mets don’t really NEED even a good Zack Wheeler, I think the Mets are better off trading him away for a reasonable offensive bat, if they can find a cooperative partner, which to my surprise and puzzlement, there seem to be a number of.



About tongonation

Weapons Grade Curmudgeon
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