For Wheeler, Duda stats caught up to skills


Put your trust in the numbers, have a little patience and you’ll be rewarded.

That’s been the story of the season for both Wednesday’s starting pitcher, Zack Wheeler, and Lucas Duda, who should be back in the lineup at first base for the 12:10 p.m. start against Philadelphia.

Wheeler was 1-5 with a 4.63 ERA through 10 outings, entering his start against the Phillies on May 29. He allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings in a 4-1 win that day. It began an 11-start run in which he has allowed no earned runs or one earned run eight times. He is 4-3 with a 2.78 ERA over that span. He has a 1.41 ERA in his last five starts, during which he has allowed one earned run in each outing.

Duda entered June 13 hitting .229 with a .740 OPS -- numbers that left Mets fans still wanting for Ike Davis at that point.

Duda went 2-for-4 with an RBI in a win over the San Diego Padres, starting a tear during which he has hit .305 with a 1.023 OPS and 10 homers in 131 at-bats.

In each case, there were reasons to think each would improve.

For Wheeler, his strikeout, walk and homers allowed combination (in sabermetric terms, his FIP -- Fielding Independent Pitching) fit the profile of a pitcher with an ERA about a run better than his actual 4.63.

In Duda’s case, he had shown consistency hitting the ball hard all season. And there was reason to expect better results when he hit the ball hard.

Wheeler’s keys

When Wheeler was going bad, we noted three issues hindering his performance -- the Mets' inability to get outs when he induced a groundball, his struggles against left-handed hitters, and his performance when the opponent had runners in scoring position.

Wheeler's 2014

All three have improved considerably over these last 11 starts (see chart).

Wheeler has also bettered his strikeout-to-walk rate, going from a pitcher with a 2-1 ratio to one with a 3-1 ratio. He has 68 strikeouts and 22 walks in his last 11 starts, while maintaining nearly an identical home-run rate.

In turn, the numbers have balanced themselves out. Wheeler’s seasonal ERA (3.64) and his FIP (3.47) are now a near-match.

Duda’s keys

Though Duda was hitting .229 through mid-June, he was hitting the ball hard.

The video scouting service we use charted Duda with a 23 percent hard-hit rate, based on how often he was getting what they defined as favorable velocity, distance, and sweet-spot contact.

Given that hard-hit balls result in hits for hitters about 70 percent of the time -- and 68 percent of the time over Duda’s previous three seasons -- almost every hitter around that rate had a considerably higher batting average than Duda. He was 25-for-44 (.568) when recording a hard-hit ball.

Lucas Duda in 2014

A couple of things have happened for Duda of late -- most notably that his line-drive rate has soared (along with a decline in his groundball rate). The fly balls have soared too. Duda has made the most of venues friendlier than Citi Field, with seven of his last 10 homers coming on the road. He also has found success in Flushing, with eight doubles in his last 48 at-bats there.

Meanwhile, his rate of hitting the ball hard has stayed consistent. In fact, his 24 percent rate in 2014 matches that of Troy Tulowitzki for best in the NL. We’ve put those numbers in the chart.

Looking ahead

The ZiPS projection system from ESPN Insider’s Dan Szymborski forecasts Wheeler to have a 3.57 ERA over his final 11 starts this season, to finish at 3.62.

That system also looks at Duda’s track record and doesn’t fully buy into this hot streak. It has him hitting .247 with seven homers in his last 48 games to finish the season at .256 with 25 homers.

In both cases, that might not be quite what the Mets fan is hoping for. But if you’re going to trust the numbers, you need to look at it both ways.

And look at this way: The finished product is pretty promising even if it tails off from its current hot run.