Taking a Closer Look at Zack Wheeler’s First Double-Digit Strikeout Performance of 2014 | Astromets Mind

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Taking a Closer Look at Zack Wheeler’s First Double-Digit Strikeout Performance of 2014

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            It’s kind of hard to believe, but with the emergence of Jenrry Mejia, the success of Jon Niese and Dillon Gee, and Bartolo Colon’s history of excellence, Zack Wheeler has recently been considered the weakest starter on the Mets current roster. Well, he did a good job of reminding people why he’s gotten so much hype Friday night against the Marlins, as he had a season high 10 strikeouts while holding the Marlins to 1 ER over 6 IP. I am not interesting in recapping what was an amazin come from behind win Friday night – if you honestly thought Omar Quintanilla would get a hit in that spot in the 9th, you are likely related to Omar Quintanilla and you should always remind him how awesome that was – but rather take a closer look at Zack Wheeler’s performance with a batter-by-batter and pitch-by-pitch breakdown. For a gif breakdown of the strikeouts, see this great amazin avenue piece by Chris McShane.

Zack Wheeler – 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 10 SO, 110 pitches, 63 strikes (57%), 12 swinging, 26 batters faced, 9 first pitch strikes. 69 Fastballs, 9 changeups, 12 sliders, 14 curveballs (per Brooks).

1st inning

1)   Yelich saw 4 fastballs and a curveball before putting a 3-2 fastball in play that Wright couldn’t handle for an error – averaged about 96 MPH on the fastball to start the game. T∂A framed the 1-0 fastball, which was just low of the zone, perfectly. Yellich barely made contact with the 1-1 fastball high and away. Bottom dropped out on the 80 MPH curve, but it was inside and Yelich looked uninterested.
2)   Ozuna struck out on 3 95 MPH fastballs. He fouled the first one off but clearly wasn’t looking for fastballs after that, as they were both pretty much right down the middle, low.
3)   Stanton started Wheeler off with a nasty fastball on the outside corner. Then T∂A with a beautiful frame job on the inside corner. A slider missed down and away on a 0-2 count. Stanton then pulled a 1-2 bouncer down the 3B line foul. A fastball sailed high and away to make it 2-2 before Stanton broke his bat on a fastball down and in for a weak grounder right at Murphy. The call on the 0-1 fastball was huge in this at-bat, and it appeared to be another ‘steal’ for T∂A.
4)   McGehee would draw a 4-pitch walk on three 96 MPH fastballs after a slider missed way outside to leadoff the at-bat. Missed down and away, up and in, and just high.
5)   Saltalamacchia would strike out on a 78 MPH curveball followed by four 95 MPH fastballs. Curveball was nearly identical to the curve he threw to Yelich, in both location and movement. It’s a nice pitch, just missing a little bit inside on where he wants to be. Had missed on 6 straight pitches before he got the third pitch over. Then Wheeler just overpowered Saltalamachia with two 94 MPH fastballs over the heart of the plate.

Totals: 22 Pitches, 12 Strikes, 2 swinging, 1 BB, 2 SO, 1 LOB

2nd inning

1)   Jones would fly out to Chris Young. He fouled off the first fastball at 95 MPH and away before flying out on a nearly identical pitch.
2)   Dietrich struck out swinging at a high fastball. After a fastball missed high and away, Dietrich would foul an 88 MPH change-up of his foot. He swung through the next 86 MPH change-up – it was nearly identical to the previous pitch, just a bit lower. After two low change-ups, he changed eye-level and added 9 MPH – Dietrich’s had no chance.
3)   Hechavarria would ground out on a 1-2 curveball at 78 MPH after 3 straight 95 MPH fastballs. He fouled off the first pitch before Wheeler got him to expand his strike zone high, way high. Wheeler would try to go back to the high zone for the third pitch, but Hechavarria wisely didn’t swing at an even higher pitch. Hechavarria then barely managed to make contact on a nasty curveball right over the heart of the plate – he was clearly geared up for something faster – to ground out to Wright.

Totals: 10 Pitches, 8 Strikes, 3 swinging, 1 SO

3rd inning

1)   Alvarez would strike out on a foul tip into the mitt. After missing with the first fastball, Wheeler threw another fastball right down the middle for a called strike. Alvarez would then barely foul off an inside curveball before being overpowered on a high 95 MPH fastball.
2)   Yelich would strike out swinging on a low inside change-up. Wheeler started him off with a 55-foot curveball followed by a curve that reached T∂A, and was quite nasty at the knees. Missed with a fastball that moved Yelich off the plate before missing with a change-up low. Followed that up with a fastball over the heart of the plate that Yelich fouled back before going back to the change-up low and inside. This was an interesting at-bat, as after missing with a curveball, he went right back to the curveball for strike one, and then after missing with both parts of the fastball-change combo, he went back to the fastball-change combo for strikes two and three, overpowering him with the 95 MPH over the outside of the plate. Had Yelich out in front of the change.
3)   Ozuna would strike out swinging on low curveball. Took a 95 MPH fastball right down the middle for strike one – don’t know what he was thinking up there over his last three pitches seen, all called strikes on fastballs over the middle of the plate, but it seemed to give Wheeler a huge edge in the at-bat. Wheeler would next throw another fastball that missed away, perhaps a show-me pitch? Because after all of those taken fastballs down the middle, Wheeler had Ozuna right where he wanted him – not willing to let another fastball go by without unloading. He correctly took advantage of this with a low slider, which Ozuna flailed at, followed by a curveball in the dirt, which Ozuna looked equally awful swinging at.

Totals: 14 Pitches, 9 Strikes, 4 swinging, 3 SO

4th inning

1)   Stanton singled on a 3-1 fastball down the middle. Wheeler started with a 94 MPH fastball inside. Stanton then pulled another inside fastball weakly. Missed with a slider away on 1-1. Missed with a slider high to fall behind 3-1 – neither slider was very good. Challenged him on 3-1 and will settle for just giving up a single to Giancarlo Stanton any day in that situation.
2)   McGehee lined out on a 2-1 slider. Wheeler missed just high on a first-pitch 95 MPH fastball but followed that up with a well-placed 94 MPH fastball at the knees. He missed outside with a decent slider before getting McGehee to fly out to CY.
3)   Saltalamacchia lined out on a 3-1 fastball that painted the corner. Wheeler started him off with an inside curve in the dirt. Then missed low with a change-up. He bounced the next change-up at about 55 feet. Got a generous call on a low, outside strike that can probably be considered another T∂A ‘steal,’ as it was definitely low.
4)   Jones popped out on a 1-0 fastball. Wheeler missed with a 95 MPH down and in, before getting Jones to pop out to EY on a 95 MPH fastball.

Totals: 16 Pitches, 7 Strikes, 1 H, 1 LOB

5th inning

1)   Dietrich walked on a 3-2 change-up away. Started him off with a curveball that missed high. Dietrich fouled off back-to-back inside fastballs. Wheeler than missed high with a 95 MPH. Missed just high with a slider before a change-up sailed outside for his second walk of the night.
2)   Hechavarria struck out swinging at a high 95 MPH fastball. Wheeler started him with 2 inside fastballs at 94 MPH. He then painted the inside corner twice with 94 then 93 MPH fastballs. Finally, he just overpowered him with a fastball at the letters.
3)   Alvarez executed the sac bunt on a fastball.
4)   Yelich walked on a 3-2 fastball that was a questionable call, Pitch/FX had it as a strike. Wheeler and T∂A were crossed up on a first pitch fastball away, which allowed Dietrich to advance to 3B (scored a wild pitch). He came back with a change-up low that Yelich fouled back. Yelich fouled off the next 95 MPH fastball down the middle to fall behind 1-2. Tried to go back to the top of the zone, but missed high with a fastball. Yelich was barely able to hold up on a low, inside slider. Slapped a foul ball that nearly hit Dietrich down the 3B line on a high fastball. Yelich barely made contact on a low 3-2 slider to stay alive. Missed with a fastball that caught the outside corner, but fooled the umpire, as T∂A was setup inside initially, so had to reach across the plate.

5)   Ozuna singled up the middle on an inside fastball. Wheeler missed outside with a low 95 MPH fastball to star the at-bat. Ozuna then pulled a 94 MPH inside fastball up the middle, passed a diving Tejada. I was disappointed with the pitch selection here, as I thought he should’ve followed up the last at-bat with a diet of off-speed stuff. That said, I think the Mets were probably not interested in getting behind or walking Ozuna with Giancarlo Stanton on deck.
6)   Stanton lined a 0-1 fastball to the RF warning track. Took a first-pitch fastball down the middle at 94 MPH, but jumped on the second fastball, which was just a little lower in the zone.

Totals: 26 Pitches, 14 Strikes, 1 swinging, 1 R, 1 H, 2 BB, 1 SO, 1 Sac, 2 LOB

6th inning

1)   McGehee singled on a 2-1 fastball. Wheeler missed high with a curveball to start the at-bat, before McGehee took a fastball to make the count 1-1. Third pitch was a fastball that just missed outside. Hit the last 94 MPH fastball right back up the middle.
2)   Saltalamacchia struck out swinging on a foul tip into the mitt. Wheeler missed high with two sliders to fall behind 2-0. Missed outside with a fastball before getting a called strike on 3-0. Salty was ready to walk to 1B on a low fastball that was called strike two, a T∂A ‘steal.’ The last fastball was only at 92 MPH, but it was more than enough to overpower Salty over the heart of the plate.
3)   Jones singled on a 2-1 fastball. Wheeler missed with a 92 MPH fastball outside to start the at-bat. He then dropped a curve over the inside of the plate for his 100th pitch of the night. Very same curve he just missed with on pitches to Yelich and Salty in the 1st. 94 MPH fastball missed outside before Jones pulled a single passed a diving Duda.
4)   Dietrich struck out swinging on a changeup. Wheeler started Dietrich off with back-to-back curveballs taken for strikes. He then tried to get Dietrich to chase up on a 93 MPH fastball. The change-up was excellent, sinking away from Dietrich.
5)   Hechavarria struck out swinging to end Wheeler’s night on a very high note. Hechavarria fouled off a 94 MPH to start the at-bat. Wheeler then just missed away on another 94 MPH fastball, but would go right back to the outside fastball at 95 MPH to make it 1-2. He then got Hechavarria to chase a slider low and away.

Totals: 22 Pitches, 13 Strikes, 2 swinging, 2 H, 3 SO

            If you want to nitpick, you can get on the fact that he needed 18.3 pitches per inning and had 3 BB’s Friday night. I would point out the Pitch/FX on one of those walks, and that we will all take 6 IP with only 1 run allowed every time out. Of course it would be nice if he could be more efficient, but that can still come with time. What’s impressive right now is his overall stuff.
His fastball velocity stayed pretty consistently around 95 MPH all night, and that was the pitch he relied on most heavily (63%), he just needs to locate in the zone better (only 61% strikes on his fastball). Most Marlins hitters could not catch up to it (he had 8 swinging strikes with it), and it will usually over power most other hitters too. For comparison, Matt Harvey went from 35% balls on his fastball in 2012 to 30% in 2013 – his second best improvement, as his curveball went from 53% balls on 75 pitches in 2012 to 31% balls on 355 pitches in 2013.
His curveball was consistent in its sharpness, and though he had trouble dropping it into the strike zone at times, he seemed confident throwing it, and some balls were of course intentionally thrown low out of the zone. He got 8/14 strikes on the curveball (57%), including one swinging strike.
His change-up was pretty impressive tonight – he got 3 whiffs on 9 pitches thrown and it averaged about 7 MPH less than his fastball per Pitch/FX at 88 MPH.
His slider was his least consistent pitch, as he only got 3/12 pitches for strikes, 1 swinging – one of those was low of the zone to get Ozuna to chase in the 3rd, likely his best slider all night. Considering the results he was getting from the change-up and curveball, Wheeler probably would have been better off not even showing this pitch – Marlins hitters were mostly just spitting on it anyway.
You may notice that is only 104 pitches, but as I am not sure which pitches the pitch statistics chart at Brooks Baseball is ignoring, it is the most accurate information available.
Moving forward, both Zack Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia have to show a consistent ability to pitch in the strike zone more often, it is their last major hurdle in becoming a pair of aces. Even when they are a little wild, they are good enough to make up for some walks, but they will end up getting burned at times. Mejia seems to suffer from random spurts of wildness, while Wheeler is in and out of the zone all night, so I think Zack has more to work on. It all starts with the first pitch of the at-bat, which Wheeler only threw for strikes to 9 of 26 hitters Friday night. 
As always, LET'S GO METS!!! Hey, ya gotta believe!

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