Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Is Zack Wheeler Overrated?

On my way to bed tonight, I took a quick look over at Metsblog to see is there were any interesting stories I missed today while in the midst of work and riveting debt-ceiling talk. Turns out that this afternoon they posted a link to the new Baseball America Top 10 Prospects list, which considers the state of the farm system as it is today post-trade and post-draft. Here's the list:

Zack Wheeler ascends to the top spot on the list, surpassing even Matt Harvey, the Mets highly-touted draft pick from last season. And for what reason, you may ask? Well, apparently, Wheeler has a really high ceiling. People like him a lot. Some of the good stuff?

--Project Prospect said that his curveball "has elite, two-plane break and is a no-doubt swing-and-miss offering."
--Baseball America in 2011 ranked him as the Giants #2 prospect and said that he "threw an easy 94-97 mph fastball" and called his changeup "functional."
--Here is a clip of Wheeler pitching this season which has been linked a few times, but may be worth another look:

But so far, none of this has translated to professional success for young Mr. Wheeler. So far this year, despite a decent enough 3.99 ERA, he has posted a 1.37 WHIP and walked 4.8 batters per nine innings for High Class-A San Jose in the California League. He's striking out a lot of batters as well, with 10.0 K/9, but for reference, he's walking the same amount of batters per nine innings as Oliver Perez did in 2008, when he was making everybody into a mental patient. His 3.99 ERA also checks in as the fourth highest ERA among regular starters on that team although, once again, his strikeout rate is elite.

But at this point, all the scouting accolades have not manifested in his actual pitching. And for those of you who would point to the fact that being drafted by the Giants portends success, Tim Lincecum dominated at San Jose (1.95 ERA, 0.90 WHIP) as did Matt Cain (1.86 ERA, 1.03 WHIP), as did Madison Bumgarner (1.48 ERA, 0.98 WHIP). All those pitchers were kept, while Wheeler was traded.

Does Wheeler stand a chance to be great? Sure, I hope so. And of course, I am no professional scout. However, you heard a number of similarly glowing things about other Mets farmhands, yet the hype machine doesn't care about them because they were not involved in a big trade.

How about Matt Harvey? His fastball "sits in the 92-96 mph range and touches 98," similar to Wheeler (link). He's 6-foot-4 with a "power curve" and flashes of above average breaking stuff. Just as importantly, Harvey dominated at High Class-A this season when Wheeler struggled, posting a 2.37 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with 10.9 K/9 and only 2.8 BB/9. Harvey has struggled somewhat in Double-A, but his fantastic strikeout to walk ratio has remained the same and he is only 29 innings into his stay there. So far, Harvey has been a tremendous success.

How about Jeurys Familia, who was a forgotten man after his struggles in 2010? He is seven months older than Wheeler, but he is putting up almost identical stats to Wheeler but is doing so in Double-A rather than Single-A. Familia has put up a 3.38 ERA, which is good, but his secondary stuff is a little rougher, with a 1.36 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9 and 10.3 K/9. When he was in High Class-A to begin the year, he dominated with a 1.49 ERA and a strikeout per inning.

Here is a clip of Jeurys Familia striking out ten batters in a minor league start on June 18th of this year.

I don't mean to lose you with all the numbers, but Familia, who also throws 92-96 with the fastball (link) has been projected by some as a "bullpen guy" while Wheeler has been touted as a potential ace. I certainly hope that Wheeler does well, but until he shows me something in the minor leagues, or until the scouting reports of his actual pitches improves -- rather than forecasts of future improvement -- I don't think he deserves the #1 spot in any Mets prospect ranking.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wheeler said in interviews that he went back to his previous delivery about two starts ago. He said he has more control this way and doesn't walk as many batters. I believe the last two starts prove it. From memory: two walks?

All the statistics you cite are with the delivery that "isn't as good".