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Saturday, July 20, 2013
2nd-half stat storylines: Zack Wheeler

By Mark Simon


AP Photo/Eric RisbergZack Wheeler will try to build on his first half.

Five statistical storylines to keep an eye on in the second half for Zack Wheeler:

Innings Limit
Given that Wheeler has not pitched more than 150 innings in a season in his career, his innings ceiling figures to be around 180.

He’s currently at 96 2/3 combining his major and minor league numbers. If you figure he has 14 starts remaining, he’d hit 180 if he averages six innings per start.

Given that Wheeler has pitched 28 innings in five starts in the majors, and that he’s only pitched seven innings or more in three of 23 starts this season, there seems to be a good chance that he would hit his ceiling at the very end of the season. Only one shortened outing (say five runs in three innings) would likely assure that.

The ups and downs
Very few pitchers have the kind of early success that Matt Harvey had from his first day in the major leagues. That Wheeler has had some good moments and bad ones isn’t surprising at all.

The last three pitchers prior to Harvey who made at least 10 starts in a season in which they were age 23 or younger on June 30 were Paul Wilson, Mike Pelfrey and Jonathon Niese. They had a combined 4.89 ERA, with Niese’s 4.20 being the best of the three. Keep that in mind when judging Wheeler the rest of the season.

In terms of statistical targets, for those who value wins, a double-digit win total isn’t impossible. If Wheeler got to 10 wins, he’d be the first Met of his age or younger to win 10 since Dwight Gooden in 1988.

Bring the heat
Terry Collins has said he wants to see Wheeler’s fastball as often as possible to help set up the surprise element for his other pitches.

Wheeler has averaged 94.9 mph on his heater in his five starts, which rates eighth-best among those who have made that many starts this season. It’s worth noting he was most effective against the Giants, averaging 93.6 mph with that pitch, his lowest average velocity of the season.

First-Pitch Strikes
One of the most encouraging things about Wheeler’s start against the Giants was that he threw a first-pitch strike to 19 of the 27 Giants hitters, finding a higher success rate than he had been getting. Particularly noticeable was how he was repeatedly able to dot the outside corner.

Wheeler had thrown only 45 percent first-pitch strikes in his first four starts. He had been able to survive from a statistical perspective, when falling behind 1-0, but historically pitchers tend to fare considerably better when up 0-1. A higher success rate should improve Wheeler’s performance overall.

Not just how he starts, but how he finishes
One constant for Wheeler is that he hasn’t been able to finish off hitters when he has a two-strike count.

Wheeler has allowed 10 of 31 hitters to reach base after he was ahead 1-2 in the count (an average pitcher this season would allow seven) and 15 of 35 hitters to reach base after getting to 2-2 in the count (an average pitcher would allow 10). He’s walked three batters against whom he had an 0-2 advantage. The only Met with more such walks is Jeremy Hefner (who has been with the team the full season) with four.

In the minor leagues, Wheeler could get away with such lapses. In the majors, it’s unlikely he will.