Wheeler comes from the Giants, and is very highly rated as a prospect…at least by the scouts. I’m here to judge him solely by the numbers. And I will say, in preface, that numbers are somewhat more likely to lie with a minor league pitcher than they are with a hitter. A hitter, minor league or otherwise, cannot dictate the action; he has to take whatever is thrown to him, and if he can’t hit a slider he can expect a steady diet of them, and the farther up the ladder he goes the truer that gets. A pitcher, by contrast, does have control of what he’s doing; he can, and does, work on secondary pitches, throwing pitches in minor league situations that he would never consider in the majors. This can have an extremely distorting effect.
The DTs don’t particularly like him. His strikeout rate is good, but hardly great; while he has struck out an impressive-looking 10 batters per 9 innings in San Jose, the league as a whole whiffs 8.33 times. His walk rate, 4.8 per 9, is pretty bad, almost disqualifying as a prospect, yet represents an improvement over the prior season. One thing that I think goes in his favor is that he has a huge platoon split; he gets absolutely clobbered by lefties, but has been right dominant against the other side. At a minimum, it provides a major league role that he could fill, even if he never does learn how to get the sinister ones out.
One type of translation that I produce, which I don’t have posted anywhere on-site, is what I call a “no-dif” translation. A nodif translation only tries to adjust for the offensive playing environment – the league offense and the home park, but not the difficulty level. That means, in nodif, that a perfectly league average pitcher will always translate to a 4.50 ERA, and 9.0 hits per 9 innings, 1 home run, 3 walks, and 6 strikeouts – in the AL, the NL, the Pioneer, Japan, in Denver or San Diego. The usual use is for making comparisons between leagues to find out just what the difference between AAA and the majors is, but I’ll use it here to look for similar pitchers.
My database on players goes back to 1978. When I look for 21-year-olds pitching in high-A, I get 2649 players. I’ll mandate 75 innings (Wheeler has 91) – that cuts it to 991. Wheeler’s a starter, so let’s put in a 12 start minimum, and that gets us to 835. Wheeler’s no-dif K rate comes out to 7.6 per 9 innings; we’ll select anyone between 7.1 and 8.1, and that leaves us with 113. Wheeler’s adjusted walk rate is 4.1. We’ll look at anyone with an adjusted walk rate of 3.5 or worse, and find that we have 40 pitchers left. Specify right-handed, and you’re down to 27.
Of those 27 pitchers, 16 never pitched in the majors. Four of them are currently active in the minors – Cody Scarpetta, Steven Johnson, Bruce Pugh, and Clint Everts – and could conceivably add to the list.
Of the 11 who reached the majors, five had minimal time. Chris Bushing pitched four innings over six games, Chuck Malone had seven innings, Steve Watkins and Kerry Woodson (not Wood) had 14 apiece, and Marc Kroon pulls in with 27. Woodson is the only one of the bunch who pitched well enough that you wonder why he didn’t get more of a chance. The five of them, combined, pitched in 58 games, starting just 1, and earned a total of -0.8 WARP3.
The list includes Erik Hiljus, who logged 124 career innings and a 0.3 WARP. Next up is Billy Buckner, with 138 innings and a -0.8 WARP. And there’s Wayne Gomes, who relieved 321 times in the majors, to whom I give a -2.3 career WARP3.
Eight of the 11 major leaguers, then combine for -3.6 WARP spread over 449 games and 696 innings. That leaves three pitchers we’ll call success stories.
Success #3 may be a highly premature call, since he’s only pitched 23 innings in the majors. But with a positive 1.3 WARP3, he’s already in third place on this list. Javy Guerra stuck his foot in the Dodger’s revolving door at closer and, for the moment, has brought it to a stop.
Success #2 is Roger Pavlik. Pavlik only pitched three full seasons in the majors, since he had enough injuries to earn loyal customer discounts with his local orthopedic surgeon. He did have two season with WARP above 4.0, and went 15-8 one year despite an ERA of 5.19 ( a mark which was slightly better than league average, as attested by the 4.34 normalized run average (NRA)). He finished his career with 13.6 WARP3.
Success #1 is Ubaldo Jimenez., which means there is one legitimate star player that Met fans can point to when they talk about Zach Wheeler’s potential.