The starting rotation was a big weakness for the Philadelphia Phillies last season. As 2020 approaches, the team will look for contributions from its biggest offseason acquisition to help strengthen the pitching staff.
The Phillies signed former New York Mets starter Zack Wheeler for five years and $118 million this past December. This signing was an intriguing one for the Phillies for several reasons. For starters, Wheeler is already an upgrade to the team’s rotation. But there is also a school of thought that he could potentially improve as a pitcher because of his top-notch velocity and stuff. The question is not whether Wheeler can be a good pitcher for the Phillies, but rather how good he can be.
2019 Stats: 31 GS, 195 1/3 IP, 3.96 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 1.26 WHIP, 1.01 HR/9, 2.30 BB/9, 8.98 K/9, 4.7 fWAR
Wheeler pitched a solid season for the Mets in 2019. Although he battled injuries early in his career, the 29-year-old has recovered nicely and has been available on the field for the past two seasons. Last season, he was able to throw the most innings of his career, as he put up above average production in a rotation filled with talent. While his season as a whole was very good, the second half was where Wheeler really shined.
In 12 starts after the All-Star Break, he threw 76 1/3 innings with an ERA of 2.83. Oddly enough, he only averaged 7.7 K/9 during this period. Although he did not strike many hitters out, Wheeler was still excellent down the stretch as the Mets went 46-26 in the second half, climbing to 86 wins for the season.
Wheeler showed flashes of top-tier production in 2019. Although he was not able to fully secure it, he proved his upside while also maintaining a baseline of what he can do going forward.
The Phillies brought Wheeler in to be their No. 2 starter behind Aaron Nola. He is very clearly their second-best pitcher in the rotation at this point. At the same time, Wheeler may still have room to grow even more.
Despite the fact that his average fastball velocity was 96.8 mph according to Statcast — not to mention the multiple offspeed weapons in his arsenal, including a curveball, slider, changeup and splitter — Wheeler struck out fewer than nine batters per nine innings last season. Perhaps working with Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price could help the newly-acquired pitcher utilize his pitches to miss more bats. Adding more strikeouts could help bring Wheeler to a new level.
Wheeler has the potential to unlock more in his game. It is not a guarantee of course, and at the very least he is someone who the Phillies can hand the ball to for a lot of innings throughout the season and expect to have a chance in each game.
However, if he is able to really break out, Wheeler could truly become the second Phillies ace alongside Nola. It is not hard to envision Wheeler becoming a pitcher who can rack up strikeouts and solidify the top end of the Phillies starting rotation as they look to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Check out our previous 2020 season previews
MORE FROM PHILLIES NATION
- Phillies Nation’s Top 20 Philadelphia Phillies Prospects
- How Much Room Do The Phillies Have Under The Luxury Tax Threshold?
- 6 Players Have Better NL MVP Odds Than Bryce Harper
- Former Phillie Jose Bautista Attempting Comeback As Two-Way Player
- Matt Klentak: It’s Time To Play In October
- How Good Could The 2006 Phillies Have Been With The DH?
- Odubel Herrera: I’m Sorry To The Fans And The Organization
- Andy MacPhail Hopes Phillies Will Exceed Luxury Tax In 2020
- Bryce Harper On J.T. Realmuto: ‘We Need Him Here’
- The Phillies Are Sporting New Helmets In 2020