In his return to the major league mound on Wednesday night in Miami, Zack Wheeler made one of the best starts of his major league career. The start came just a few days after he made his season debut—pitching for the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s. And by the time he was done facing the Marlins, he had thrown seven innings with seven strikeouts, one walk, and just one run allowed on two hits, one of which was a solo home run.
That line was good for a 75 game score. By that measurement, Wheeler tied the second-best start of his career, a start that took place against the Cubs back in early June of 2014. The best start of his career came not long after that one and also took place in Miami: a three-hit shutout with eight strikeouts, one walk, and an 88 game score that still stands as the fourth-best start by a Mets pitcher since the beginning of the 2013 season.
Sure, this start came against a Marlins team that could very easily lose 100 games this year, and it is only one start. But neither Noah Syndergaard nor Jacob deGrom made it look nearly as easy as Wheeler did on Wednesday night. So let’s take a look at what Wheeler did.
Per Brooks Baseball, Wheeler averaged 95.26 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball, which was pretty much in line with what he did in 2013 and 2017. He threw his hardest, a ticket over 96 miles per hour on average, in 2014, but averaging over 95 is nothing to sneeze at.
Wheeler’s change averaged 87.20 miles per hour, down about one-and-a-half from last year, and his curve was a bit slower, averaging 78.71, down about eight-tenths of a mile per hour from 2017. But his slider averaged 89.40, up from last year’s 88.65 and closer to his average of 90 on the dot in 2014. Pitching isn’t only about velocity, but it’s encouraging that Wheeler was throwing this hard, as his season ended early last year with relatively vague arm problems—and that was his first season back after missing two full years because of Tommy John surgery.
On top of being good, Wheeler was incredibly efficient, throwing just 83 pitches to get through seven innings. If not for the fact that the Mets were trailing by one run late in the game, it’s possible that Wheeler would have at least started the eighth inning, especially if the Mets had a lead by that point in the game.
Of the 83 pitches he threw, though, 14 were swinging strikes, an excellent 16.9 percent rate that’s well above the norm for starting pitchers. And while he got some of those swings-and-misses on the fastball, he got them on 40 percent of his sliders—8 out of 20—and 18.18 percent of his curves—2 out of 11. The fact that the slider fared well relative to the rest of his repertoire isn’t a new thing, as the pitch has always been his best when it comes to getting opposing hitters to swing and miss. Let’s take a look at the slider in action on a few of those swinging strikes.
Derek Dietrich strikes out, 1st inning
Dietrich was the first batter Wheeler faced in the bottom of the first inning, and he fell behind 3-1 to begin the at-bat. But a foul ball gets him to a full count, and after another foul ball, Wheeler unleashes a filthy slider the breaks low and in on the lefty. SNY had it at 92 miles per hour.
Cameron Maybin strikes out, 2nd inning
Wheeler was never behind in the count in this at-bat, but he went 0-1, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2 to Maybin to set up another really pretty slider. This one showed up at 91 miles per hour.
Lewis Brinson strikes out, 5th inning
Like the Maybin, Brinson gets to 2-2 against Wheeler. And Wheeler breaks out the slider, this one coming in at just 88 miles per hour SNY’s gun and a little bit higher than the other two displayed above. Brinson doesn’t come close to hitting the pitch, though.