ROCKY ROAD: Is It Time to Stop Getting Excited About the Next Zack Wheeler Start?

After a spectacular debut, the last two starts by “phenom” Zack Wheeler have been less than phenomenal. There may be reasons for that, but the point stands: Big excitement, lots of anticipation, huge letdown.

I missed Little Timmy’s birthday for this?

Zack Wheeler, Jayson Werth

Should we stop getting excited about every start? Maybe bring it down two notches?

Or as my college-age son said to me, “I think we got spoiled by Harvey.” (He actually texted that to me, as it’s so much simpler than actually talking.)

As an old guy — I saw today that the co-creator and owner of The Daily Stache, Matthew Falkenbury, graduated from the same college as I did, but 27 freaking years later! — I recall that the majority of great pitchers endure rocky beginnings.

So I looked up six guys from the top of my head, bang bang bang till I emptied my revolver, one after the other. Here’s some stats from early in their careers:


Greg Maddux:      5.61     4.3        5.8       10.5      1.64       21

John Smoltz         5.48     4.6        5.2       10.4      1.67       21

Curt Schilling       3.81     4.6        8.4         9.4      1.60       24

Ron Darling         3.81     4.6        6.0         7.8      1.38       23

Tom Glavine        4.56     2.9        3.9         9.3      1.35       22

Randy Johnson    4.82     5.4        7.3         8.2      1.51       25

Zack Wheeler      5.06     5.6        7.3         7.9      1.50       23

Obviously, Wheeler has started just 3 games, so his averages are meaningless. It was just fun to look them up for context.

What does all this mean?

Almost nothing. Other than it would be a mistake to rush to judgment. Don’t think too hard about any of it yet. Just a small reminder that for a lot of guys, it takes some time to work out the kinks.

A Wheeler comp? We can only dream.

A Wheeler comp? We can only dream.


That said: I could have easily found a bunch of crummy guys who never succeeded at the MLB level who put up similar first-year numbers.

The good ones got better, or as the current popular cliche goes, “They made adjustments.” Whatever. The lesser guys never caught on.

I keep coming back to the eye test: I look at Wheeler and see the tools, the fastball and the sharp break on the curve. I believe in this guy, but it’s going to take some time. I’m glad he’s learning, finally, at the ML level. Where it all goes, nobody knows.

Young Tom Glavine.

Young Tom Glavine.


By the way, Glavine’s 3.9 K/9 ratio back in 1988, wow, that sure looked unsustainable. I would not have purchased stock in that guy, knowing what I know now about ML success and the ability to strike guys out. Glavine only reached 6.0 five times in his 22 year career. Kind of amazing that he won 305 games. I can’t imagine there are too many guys who won 150 with a career K/9 at Tom’s 5.3 level.

Anyway, back to Wheeler: I think I’m still going to be excited for his next start, but mostly that’s because I can’t help it.






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  1. Eraff says:

    Player Development doesn’t follow the tight schedule for baking a cake. That’s an education for fans,,,,hopefully, it’s a REMINDER for the Front Office. The development of this team will need to include Trades and Free Agency. The prospects will not peak at some magical point in “the development cycle”.

  2. Eraff says:

    The “public tinkering” also needs to end. A little less of THE TRUMAN SHOW would benefit Wheeler.

    • Yes, that’s the problem with Terry and the microphones — he just prattles on, theorizes, speculates, blabbers. It’s a tough spot, because he gets so many questions, constantly. Shutting up is not really an option.

      In the end, nothing else matters but what the player does on the field. Good coaches, bad coaches, nobody cares.

      • This is the thing that guys like Joe Torre, Buck Showalter and to a lesser extent Bobby Valentine and Tony LaRussa (the latter two when not loving themselves) mastered. The art of saying nothing often in a very compelling manner.

        Collins is so eager to prove his worth it rears itself with bizarre euphemism followed almost in direct proportion with stunning changes in direction.

        • Eraff says:

          Patrick…yeah, I was trying to put my finger on it—you nailed it. The Mets Management is a bunch of guys TALKING and trying to making you feel that they’re SMART! That’s number one.

  3. Catfish Hunter won 224 games with a career 5.2 K’s / 9. Context matters though, too. A particular ratio will be more or less impressive depending on the era in which it occurred. A pitcher with a 5.2 K / 9 mark today (when strikeouts are extremely common) would be less impressive than during a relative contact era like the ’70’s when, God forbid, some players would still choke up on the bat with two strikes on them. (Dave Kingman led the league with 131 strikeouts one year, which seems almost quaint by today’s standards.)
    Generally, though, like you, I’ll take the guy who can bust a fastball by a batter when he needs to.

    • Lots of factors come into play when looking at variations in distinct eras. When you really go back, balls would often be in play longer, bats were not always made equally cared for and well, and even the concept of “choking up” can be called into question, because to a certain extent it was considered, “better to slap the ball in play and take a chance than the undignified strikeout”. But the latter lends itself to a lot of inferior contact with fairly easy plays.

      To some extent you can look at Catfish Hunter and a guy in more or less the next era (slightest overlap), Jack Morris, as guys who would relentlessly attack for outs. Something you can could get away with lineups that generally did not get much deeper than 3 to 4 above average hitters per team. Now that these guys train year round, and PEDs notwithstanding, have spent likely the greater part of their training years 15+ if not younger learning the art and technique of hitting from instructors it changes the game.

      Of course there is the myth regarding Ty Cobb that offers to boldly assert that a great hitter, if they wanted to, could opt for the long ball anytime they wanted.

  4. Dave says:

    Southpaws like Glavine seem to have an easier time winning without the strikeout. Jim Palmer and Tommy John are two soft tossing lefties with close to 300 wins and K/9 at or below 5.0.

    p.s. Tommy John is also the answer to the trivia question “who is the only player to be a teamate of both Early Wynn and Al Leiter?”

    • Michael Geus says:

      Palmer was right handed. Interesting to see his strikeout rate so low, I always considered him a fairly hard thrower. As a Mets fan though, I can’t say I saw him all that much.

    • Great call on Jim Palmer. Like Mike, I recalled him as a hard-thrower. The low K-rates surprised me and certainly make him an exception.

      According to the “Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers,” pulled down from my awesome baseball library:

      “Although Palmer’s best pitch during the first decade of his career was a high fastball, which is ordinarily a strikeout pitch, he was never especially concerned with his strike out totals. Strikeouts, he asserted, are only important in certain situations; “otherwise, they’re just something glamorous and not particularly significant.”

      He also threw a slow curve — which you don’t commonly see from RHP.

      Lastly, a factoid (that touches upon pitching to situations, possibly): He faced 254 batters in bases loaded situations and only gave up 36 hits, only 6 doubles, 1 triple, 0 homers. The slash line in that situation: .195/.233/.233. That’s crazy, never gave up a grand slam in all those years.

  5. Eric says:

    Jim Palmer was DEFINITELY NOT a Soft Tosser! He was a power pitcher and he pitched very well to situations. He pitched to contact. He’d beat you 2-1 or 6-5.

    I believe a very good point was made here earlier about strikeouts….. until 15-20 years ago, a strikeout carried a certain Tarnish…. There is very little differentiation in 0-2 versus 2-0 swing approach today. Until Recently, guys NOT Named Reggie Jackson or Frank Howard or Prince Fielder choked up and hit defensively with two strikes. Today, the swing path of a 9 HR, .270 hitter is the same 0-2 as it is 2-0.

    #1,#2 and #8 hitter Did Not Strike out…. today, the entire lineup is a feeding frenzy for strikeout stats. Reading Sabre Stats and deciding that past pitchers were soft tossers is not accurate.

  6. Brian Joura says:

    Since Glavine’s debut in 1987, only one other pitcher has won 150+ games with a K/9 of 5.32 or lower … Mark Buehrle with 178 wins and a 5.14 K/9. There are 13 other pitchers with a Glavine or worse K-rate and 100+ wins, ranging from Bob Tewksbury to Scott Erickson. This includes two other active guys in Jon Garland and Jake Westbrook.

    • Thank you, Brian. Impressive research. Interesting that Buehrle was an All World Defender at his position. Like Greg Maddux, I’m sure it saved him a lot of runs, and quite a few victories, over the years.

      • Michael Geus says:

        Works very fast too, easy to play defense around him.

        • And to keep hitters off balance. This is something Al Leiter did to a lesser extent but exceptionally well in his prime years in the late 1990s. He brought a planned approach and essentially two pitchers to the mound but was ready to execute that plan to near mapped out status. Things like that put a hitter at a disadvantage because they have less time to consider what is going to potentially happen next. On the opposite end you though you have Mariano Rivera, whom you know is throwing one pitch, takes his sweet time in setting himself to deliver and almost puts the batter in a state of frozen panic for a single pitch they know is coming 98% of the time.

  7. Eric says:

    When will Cashman Tweet “STFU Collins!” ?

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