Zack Wheeler pitched well for the Mets in 2013, but not as well as you may think.
Wheeler's MLB debut on June 18th was as exciting a day a Mets fan had last year. After watching Matt Harvey dominate the Braves in the day time for a Mets win, it was Zack Wheeler's turn to show his talent in the 2nd game of the double-header. He was shaky at first, but overall, he was impressive. He did walk 5 batters, but he struck out 7 in 6 scoreless innings, earning him his first Majors League "W". He followed with some more so-so starts against the White Sox and Brewers, but after that, he really got on a good roll. It included games like his mastering of his former organization, the San Francisco Giants, and his 12 strike-out performance against the Padres. At the end of the day, I came away happy with what Wheeler did in his rookie season, but there are some concerns I have.
To take a step back for a second, Wheeler started 17 games, throwing 100 innings last year. He had 7-5 record with a 3.42 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. He was worth 0.6 fWAR and 1.1 bWAR.
The first thing I want to point out is his ERA. A 3.42 ERA isn't what it used to be. It was only good enough for a 104 ERA+, meaning he was 4% above league average in terms of preventing runs, after you consider the surroundings he pitched in. ERA isn't a perfect stat anyway, so take a look at his ERA guessers like FIP and xFIP. He posted a 4.17 FIP and 4.21 xFIP. Not bad, but definitely nothing to go crazy about.
Another of my worries was his walk rate. Wheeler walked 4.1 hitters per 9 innings, to striking out 7.6 per 9. His 19.5% K rate again shows he misses bats at a good rate, but walking hitters at a 10.7% clip is very high. Looking at Baseball Reference, I found that over the last 10 years, there have been 32 seasons that a pitcher has had a 7.6 K/9 or lower and a 4.1 BB/9 or higher. The best ERA was a 3.21, with the worst at 6.05. However, all but 6 of those seasons had the pitcher throwing to an ERA over 4. 18 of them were over 4.50.
Probably my biggest concern was his struggles against left-handed hitters. They hit .259/.371/.395 off of him and Wheeler had just a 1.23 K/BB against them. His lack of a change up really hurts him here. Last year, he threw his not very effective change up just 3.3% of the time. Not to say this can't improve, but it's certainly a worry. Remember, Matt Harvey didn't have all that great of a change up his rookie year, and he came back last year with it very improved. I hate to bring up Harvey with Wheeler, but in this case, it's in a good way.
No, Zack Wheeler isn't bad. He's not "soft" and he won't have issues "handling" New York. Just temper your expectations for this year. Could he be an All-Star this year? He has the talent to. It's just unfair to expect him to step up right away and be a star caliber pitcher. I expect improvements with Wheeler, but all I ask for is him to be a 3 or 4 starter, giving the Mets around 180 solid, but not great innings. If he can do that, 2014 will be a success for him.