When the Phillies signed Zack Wheeler to a 5-year/$118 million contract last December, there was a lot of talk about how they were paying him based on potential. But the 29-year-old has been productive when healthy in New York, and slots in the top of the Phillies rotation with fellow right-hander Aaron Nola.
Here are three numbers that show how productive Wheeler has been in his career and how he can keep improving as a member of the Phillies:
8.9 – fWAR Since 2018
There has been plenty of talk about what Wheeler can be given his repertoire, but part of the reason the Phillies signed him is because of how effective he already is.
Wheeler’s 8.9 fWAR since 2018 ranks ninth among all major league starters, the same mark as Nola. During the same time, he also ranks top-10 in baseball in FIP and HR/9, and has established himself as a very productive pitcher. There is certainly room for Wheeler to get better, but if his floor is how he performed over the last two seasons, the Phillies will still be getting their money’s worth.
6.1 – Innings Per Start Since 2018
One thing that Phillies starters outside of Nola (and even Nola at times) have struggled with is pitching deep into games. Without the presence of a dominant bullpen, early exits for starter have really hurt the team over the past couple seasons.
Wheeler, however, has had no problem pitching deep into games. Over the past two seasons, he has pitched seven or more innings in 29 of his 60 starts. Phillies starters not named Aaron Nola were only able to complete seven innings in 35 of their 257 starts between 2018 and 2019.
The Phillies bullpen is still a question mark heading into 2020. Wheeler’s ability to eat innings every fifth day will certainly help.
96.8 – Average Four Seam Fastball Velocity In 2019
While Wheeler has been a very good starter thus far in his career, there is still room for improvement. A lot of this comes from how Wheeler uses his four seam fastball, which is one of the hardest in baseball among major league starters and ranks in the 94th percentile among all pitchers. If he can use his plus fastball more effectively and have a late-20s breakout similar to what Gerrit Cole was able to do in Houston, he will become an ace-level pitcher.
The Phillies signed Wheeler knowing that he has yet to reach his ceiling as a major league starter. But, even if he is unable to do that during his time in Philadelphia, he can still live up to the contract he signed this winter by continuing to pitch at the clip he has over the past two seasons.
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