Through a Glass Darkly: The Zack Wheeler View Master

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” — 1 Corinthians 12:13, King James Bible.

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Today I want to bring together three things:

1) A passage from the King James Bible which speaks to the imperfection of our knowledge;

2) A 3-D View Master;

3) And Zack Wheeler.

In other words, I am trying to get to the question: Who is Zack Wheeler?

My answer: We don’t know yet.

But that doesn’t stop me, or anyone else in the Metsblogosphere, from typing.

View-FinderFirst, do you remember those View Masters we had as kids? Man, we went bananas over that gizmo. If you ever want to feel really old, even antiquated, try regaling some snot-nosed teenager about the joys of the View Master. Explain to him how it worked, how amazing it was, how we’d stare at the dazzling “3-D” images in rapturous wonder.

That kid will look at you with abject pity. He’ll feel sorry for you, sorry for the lame planet you came from, you clueless, crazy old bastard from yesteryear.

Mr. Back in the Day.

To which I retort: But wait!

Today Zack Wheeler gets his first start of his first full season with the New York Mets. Hope is in the air. And each day, there’s a new comparison as we try to figure out what, precisely, the Mets might get from his guy.

Back almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a post comparing Wheeler to a young Ron Darling. At the time, I was lobbying for the Mets to bring up Zack. Or at least, I attempted to make the point that he was “ready,” since that was the phony argument that some put forth to justify keeping him at Triple-A ball. My approach was an effort to define what I meant by “ready,” which was, and still is for me, ready to face the next challenge. No guarantees.

After noting Zack’s wildness and his imperfections, and comparing those attributes to a young Ron Darling, I wrote:

Not many pitchers are ever going to be “ready” in the sense of arriving as a finished product. In fact, the idea is preposterous. The critical questions are about whether he’s mature enough to be with the big club, if he can win, if he can handle losing, and if he’s better than your options.

I see the major leagues as the next challenge in Zack Wheeler’s development. He needs to graduate from the minor leagues, where he no longer belongs. He needs to learn on the job with the New York Mets.

That is, I viewed Zack through the lens of a Ron Darling View Master.

I’ve read many people, here and elsewhere, who have casually compared Zack to Matt Harvey. As in, he’s “the next Matt Harvey.” We just have to sit back and watch him flower into sublime greatness! To me, I don’t share those lofty expectations for Zack. The Matt Harvey lens doesn’t work for me, though I can see the potential, the glimpses of greatness. Matt was a rare bird that doesn’t come along too often. At the same time, I think Zack can win an important, crucial game by the score of 1-0. He has that ability. A part-time ace.

Even so, I look at Zack’s numbers from 2013 and I’m disappointed in his 7.6 K/9 rate. I wanted the fastball to be more overwhelming. I expected trouble with walks, and the 4.1 BB/9 rate confirms that. Even in Spring Training this year, across the meaningless sample size of 18.2 IP, Zack Wheeler only struck out 11 batters for a 5.3 K/9 rate.

NY-BD870_SPRTS__DV_20110831202001That’s when I pick up my Mike Pelfrey View Master. When I view Zack through that lens, I imagine that I see a pitcher who struggles at times with his secondary pitches. Who, for disturbing stretches, has trouble locating the plate (unlike Bartolo: rimshot!).

A power pitcher who can’t quite put hitters away.

I shudder and hurl the View Master across the room, smashing it against the wall. But I can’t unsee the images! The two-strike foul balls into the stands. The ten-pitch walks. The inefficient pitch counts across four-and-a-third innings.

Who is the real Zack Wheeler?

Well, now we get to see, “face to face.”

I think he’s going to be good, and I still like the Ron Darling comp. When Zack can throw his slider for a strike, he will be dominant. When that pitch disappears, when he regularly falls behind on batters, it won’t be nearly as pretty.

2315_115653453006Baseball-Reference crunches the numbers and lists these guys as closest in their “similarity scores”:

  • Brad Bergesen
  • Cactus Keck
  • Schoolboy Rowe
  • Abner Powell
  • Danny Richardson
  • Cy Young
  • Oil Can Boyd
  • Bob Osborn
  • Charlie Lea
  • Steve Trachsel.

I guess that’s about right, he squeezes in somewhere between Cy Young and Steve Trachsel, or Matt Harvey and Mike Pelfrey. There’s plenty of room.

We come, at last, to Walt Whitman’s famous quote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Because on any given outing, Zack Wheeler will be all of these people, and more. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Inning by inning, pitch by pitch, a shape-shifting metamorphosis before our eyes.

My point is, the comparisons are going to come. But the great thing about the baseball season after this long and brutal winter, is we now get to watch for ourselves — the real article, the genuine magilla — as Zack Wheeler invents himself anew, taking the ball every fifth game for the New York Mets.

I’ll be watching.

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12 comments

  1. Michael Geus says:

    When you look at Zack’s first 100 innings last year, they were very good. If that is it, if he never improves, he is a good major league pitcher. Of course, I do hope for some additional improvement.

    Most likely, as Jimmy points out, he will never remind us of Matt Harvey. That’s fine with me, there are a lot of different ways to succeed. If Wheeler becomes another Ron Darling, well, Darling was a hell of a pitcher. Sounds good to me.

    Wheeler has major talent and potential upside. He is healthy. How much he develops might be the most important factor for both the short and long term hopes of the team.

    I’m not ready to predict his full ceiling but I will go out on a limb on his floor. If Wheeler remains healthy no one will look back and compare him to Pelfrey or Trachsel. He is better than that.

  2. James, Not sure how you can be disappointed in a 7.69 K/9 rate in Wheeler’s first 100 innings. If he’d pitched enough innings to qualify, he would have ranked 21st in the N.L. among all starting pitchers last season. Assuming a bit more fine-tuning on Wheeler’s part, that’s a pretty solid showing for a rookie.
    The walk rate is a bit more troubling, but even there, since we’re comparing Wheeler to Ron Darling, Darling’s walk rate as a Met was over 4 walks per nine in three of his first four full seasons.
    While I don’t think we’re looking at the next Tom Seaver, Wheeler’s already probably better than Darling was at a similar stage of development. But like you, I do think there will be lots of ups and downs this year, and that bullpen won’t help the situation. Nor will the infield defense.

  3. Eraff says:

    If he “becomes Ron Darling”… wow…that would be pretty successful!

    Harvey quickly became (arguably) “The Best Pitcher in Baseball”. You cannot compare stages of development and then extrapolate that almost super-human leap to Wheeler, Thor, Montero or any other Golden Armed Boy. It’s ridiculous…and Ridiculously Unfair.

    Yeah…let’s watch him and enjoy it!

  4. IB says:

    What was it you wrote the other day? It’s not time to panic? It’s not, but so far I’m reminded of my dismay after the Mets got ripped a new asshole by the Tigers last year. I was forced to realize what a difference there was to a competitive franchise and the Mets. It was a reality uppercut that sent me to the canvas. Jeez.

  5. Michael Geus says:

    Terry Collins looked into his ViewMaster and saw…Lucas Duda, starting first baseman.

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