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Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Stat grade for Wheeler so far: B-minus

By Mark Simon


Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesZack Wheeler has had his share of good moments and bad moments since his first start in Atlanta.

One of the companies that does video-tracking for teams, Inside Edge, evaluates pitchers using stats to generate a report card grade, based on more than 20 factors.

Their grading system doesn’t consider whether the pitcher won or lost the game, but how the pitcher fared at doing the things necessary for a pitcher to have major-league success.

Their system works for games and for analyzing a pitcher’s seasonal performance. We used it to put tonight’s starter, Zack Wheeler under the microscope.

What Wheeler rates best at
Wheeler had two areas in which he rated an A or A-.

Pct of 0-1 counts that get to 0-2 instead of 1-1(A):
This was Wheeler’s only ‘A’ grade. The typical major-league pitcher gets to 0-2 and 1-1 about the same amount, presuming that the 0-1 pitch is not hit put in play. Wheeler’s split is 56/44 in favor of 0-2 counts.

The best example of this was in his no-hit bid against the Marlins, when of his first dozen 0-1 count, 10 were positive results (outs or strikes) and only two were negative (both balls).

What’s getting him there is that opposing hitters have been eager to chase against Wheeler when he gets that first-pitch strike. It’s a very small sample, but it has been an early tendency for him. The problem, as you’ll see in a moment, is getting there.

Pct of runners who score (A-):
The average major-leaguer allows 22 percent of those to reach base against him to score. Wheeler’s rate through 11 starts is 19 percent. A three percent gap may not seem like a significant difference, but it is.

Another way of putting it is that Wheeler has been an escape artist. Opponents are hitting only .192 against him with men on base, and are 9-for-53 with one extra base hit with runners in scoring position (.170).

Wheeler’s success at getting strikeouts in these situations has been very high. He’s struck out 27 percent of those he’s faced with men on base, 16 percent of those he’s faced with no one on.

What Wheeler rates worst at
Wheeler had six categories in which he rated a D+ or worse. Half of those were related to the issue discussed most commonly during his starts this season, working ahead in the count.

Wheeler is throwing only 49 percent first-pitch strikes (the average rate is 60 percent). He also rates considerably below average in throwing strikes within his first two pitches, and first three pitches. Not surprisingly, he’s also running up more three-ball counts than most pitchers do.

Hand-in-hand with that is a D grade for the strike rate of his offspeed stuff, (53 percent versus a league-average of 62 percent).

The good news is that turned around for Wheeler in that 12-strikeout gem against the Padres, in which he threw his highest rate of offspeed pitches (45 percent) and had his highest success rate with them (35 of 51 for strikes, including eight strikeouts).

Wheeler’s other D grade (actually a D+) was for how often he got a 1-2-3 inning. We counted 18 innings in which Wheeler faced three batters and didn’t allow a hit or walk.

The average pitcher is getting 24 such innings in the number of frames that Wheeler has pitched.

Overall Grade
When the 20-plus factors were averaged together, the grade for Wheeler’s first 11 starts came out to a B-minus.

In other words, there are enough positive indicators to warrant a respectable grade. Remember, it’s only 11 starts. The Mets have liked what they’ve seen so far.

And let’s also note, the results (something beyond Wheeler’s control) have been Grade-A. The Mets are 8-3 when he pitches.

How would you grade Wheeler so far? Share your thoughts in the comments.