In what could end up being his last season with the Mets, Zack Wheeler was looking to build off a strong second half of 2018 and boost his value entering free agency this offseason, all while staying healthy for a second consecutive season. For the most part, Wheeler accomplished both of those goals as he threw a career high 195.1 innings and posted numbers across the board similar to last season.
Wheeler was able to do this all while navigating trade rumors surrounding his name in July and a short stint on the injured list that month after manager Mickey Callaway constantly pushed Wheeler’s pitch count past 100.
The start of the season for Wheeler was very shaky, highlighted by his second start of the year at home against the Nationals. In the rubber game of the series, Wheeler struggled with his command, walking 7 Nationals’ batters and allowing 7 earned runs to score. The start caused Wheeler’s ERA to ballon to 10.24 and led many fans to believe that the Wheeler we saw in the second half of 2018 was just an anomaly.
Following this start against the Nationals, Wheeler was able to regain some of his control and over his next 17 starts, he walked 2.1 batters per 9 innings. A highlight of the season for Wheeler came in this stretch against the Phillies on April 23rd. In the start, he pitched seven shutout innings, striking out 11 and helped his own cause, hitting a two-run double and a solo home run in the game. However, Wheeler was still struggling to limit runs during this stretch, pitching to a 4.20 ERA. The last start of that span came on July 7th, the last game of the first half. When the Mets came back from the All-Star break, it was announced Wheeler had been put on the injured list with “shoulder fatigue”.
Prior to the injury, Wheeler had been mentioned as a possible pitcher to be dealt at the trade deadline as the Mets were struggling. This IL stint came at the worst possible time for those rumors and led to many questions from other teams about Wheeler’s health down the finals stretch of the season.
Wheeler came back from the IL on July 26th to face the reeling Pirates at home. While facing doubts about his health, Wheeler’s fastball showed life, averaging 96.8 miles per hour and he went 5.1 innings, allowing three runs while striking out seven.
Two days after this start, the Mets acquired Marcus Stroman, leading to more speculation the Mets would stand pat at the deadline and hold on to players such as Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard. It was also said that the Mets asking price for Wheeler was too high for any team to match, though the Houston Astros were very interested.
After surviving the deadline and remaining with the Mets, Wheeler took the mound in the south side of Chicago to face the White Sox. Helping extend the Mets winning streak to six games, Wheeler turned in one of his best performances of 2019, pitching 7 scoreless innings while striking out seven and allowing just four baserunners.
Wheeler kept the Mets’ train back to Wild Card contention rolling five days later at home against the Marlins with another impressive start. This time, Wheeler pitched 8 scoreless innings in a 5-0 victory for the Mets. The first two starts of August would be the strongest ones of the month for Wheeler, as he struggled and posted a 5.73 ERA over his final four starts of the month.
In September, Wheeler continued his general upwards trend as he pitched at least 7 innings in four of the five starts he made that month and had a 1.85 ERA for the month. This strong finish to the season powered Wheeler to a 2.83 ERA in the second half across 12 starts. As was the story with the 2019 Mets, he was only able to pick up two victories in his final five starts as the bullpen squandered his efforts in strong performances against the Dodgers and Reds.
The final line on Wheeler’s 2019 season ended up being very similar to his 2018 season. He finished with 11 victories and 8 losses with a 3.96 ERA. He also struck out 8.98 batters per 9 innings and walked 2.3 per 9 innings, both improvements from his 2018 campaign. With a FIP of 3.48, ERA+ of 102, and a fWAR of 4.7 Wheeler was, simply put, one of the better pitchers in baseball in 2019. This came in a year where many pitcher struggled to record home run rates and a juice ball.
Heading into the offseason, the question surrounding Wheeler is if he will return to the Mets in 2020 and beyond. A free agent, the Mets can extend him a qualifying offer, which could potentially limit his options elsewhere. It would be wise to bring Wheeler back as the options the Mets would realistically replace him with are not exactly promising (no offense Rick Porcello). Keeping Wheeler, along with Noah Syndergaard, would give the team one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball be and a good start at contending in 2020.
Whatever ends up happening with Wheeler, one thing remains clear, the team he is on will be getting an above-average pitcher who has proved the last two seasons he can give you 180 or more mostly quality innings