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Reinventing The Wheeler

Nick Pollack reviews every starting pitcher performance from Tuesday.

Once Zack Wheeler signed with a team not named the Mets, I became excited. I’ve believed Wheeler has the tools in a upper 90s four-seamer and harsh 90 mph slider to truly overwhelm batters constantly, shifting his approach from east-west to north-south and pushing a 25-30% strikeout rate with strong ratios. While he hasn’t been terrible this year, last night’s 5.2 IP, 3 ER, 8 Hits, 1 BBs, 2 Ks – 11 Whiffs, 27% CSW line against the Orioles is more of the same mediocrity that just doesn’t feel like the Wheeler we know he can be. Is that what we should be expecting?

On one hand, his four-seamer and slider approach was much better in this start, focusing more on elevation and depth than in his earlier outings, but they returned a meh 27% CSW combined. He still relies a bit too much on his sinker, which sticks in the zone instead of falling off glove-side, allowing it to be put in play too often and not resulting in enough outs. His changeup and curveball can steal strikes a bit, but they aren’t the whiff pitch we’re looking for.

And that’s really it. His slider, despite being located decently well, just isn’t returning the whiffs we want – just 2/13 here. And while I think the floor of Wheeler is relatively high (still Top 40!), there’s still an approach tweak + a grip or release tweak to make his slider to evolve into that Top 15 SP. It could happen later in the year, but I’m losing hope for 2020.

 

Let’s see how every other SP did Tuesday:

 

Dylan Bundy vs OAK (W) – 7.0 IP, 0 ER, 4 Hits, 1 BBs, 10 Ks – 17 Whiffs, 38% CSW. You can’t stop this ROCK. That’s a Gallows Pole and King Coleearning him what I’m thinking of calling the Golden Goal of both a GP and KC in a given night (it’s their goal + I make them golden + the ‘ole rhyme n stuff). He’s throwing around 40% fastballs with 34% sliders that held an unreal 49% CSW here, featuring 5/9 called strikes on curveballs as well. The dude is cruising. One thing to note, though – he’s only faced the A’s and Mariners so far, each twice. Maybe he just has their number as four starts don’t make a season, but hey, you best be starting Bundy blindly until he tells you not to.

Mike Minor vs SEA (ND) – 4.0 IP, 0 ER, 1 Hits, 3 BBs, 4 Ks – 9 Whiffs, 26% CSW. So 91 mph on his fastball is better than the 90 mph we saw last time, but still a little behind the mark from last year. What’s even weirder is that he threw more sliders than changeups for the second outing this year – remember, that slider is way worse than his changeup…but this year that changeup hasn’t quite been the elite offering it was in previous years. Meanwhile, the Rangers had him on a short leash and after 76 pitches, they gave him the hook. It’s not a great situation for Minor at the moment, but hopefully something strikes a chord, help him he take a half-step forward to harmonize his approach and make a major improvement.

Andrew Kittredge @ BOS (ND) – 0.1 IP, 0 ER, 1 Hits, 0 BBs, 0 Ks – 0 Whiffs, 20% CSW. The Rays are going to have more bullpen games like this, and hopefully with Andrew as the False Starter a ton so I can keep saying “KITTREDGE!” in my head from the first Mission:Impossible movie over and over again. Who doesn’t want that?

Luis Castillo vs KC (ND) – 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 7 Hits, 2 BBs, 5 Ks – 11 Whiffs, 31% CSW. Aces gonna ace. Five strikeouts and 11 whiffs are a little low for Castillo, who failed to elevate in the slightest in this game and didn’t have quite as good of a changeup as we’ve seen in the past. Whatever, at least he’s still throwing the slow ball a ton (36% of the time here) and he’ll continue to cruise through the year.

Jon Lester @ CLE (W) – 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 3 Hits, 2 BBs, 4 Ks – 8 Whiffs, 30% CSW. Man, I got an air of Trevor Williams watching Lester have success against Cleveland in this one, as he threw a ton of hittable fastballs and cutters that landed in the heart of the zone without proper punishment. You escaped this one JL, but I’m waiting for tonight your next start, ohhhh, it won’t be pretty.

Max Scherzer @ NYM (W) – 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 6 Hits, 2 BBs, 7 Ks – 13 Whiffs, 27% CSW. Aces gonna ace. Sure, not the most studly CSW, but Scherzer is still a stud you start every time. And that’s wonderful.

Hyun-Jin Ryu vs MIA (ND) – 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 2 Hits, 2 BBs, 7 Ks – 12 Whiffs, 29% CSW. I watched some of this game much to my chagrin as the camera angle was painful – that’s the minor league stadiums for ya. But on the real, I was shocked to see Ryu act as an elevated pitcher instead of the heavy low-and-away approach we normally see. Like, look at this. That ain’t what I normally expect from Ryu! I love it, and it could been even better if his changeups were properly placed down, but they were a bit all over the place in this one. Whatever, Ryu is performing way better than he did at the start and you should be very down for this.

Garrett Richards @ LAD (W) – 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 6 Hits, 2 BBs, 3 Ks – 6 Whiffs, 28% CSW. He’s really leaning fastball/slider these days and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think his curveball could see a bit more time in the future. Nevertheless, this was against the Dodgers and it’s good to see Richards succeed in what was likely a bench. He could get the Diamondbacks again on Sunday and that’s a start I want everywhere.

Adam Plutko vs CHC (L) – 4.0 IP, 1 ER, 4 Hits, 1 BBs, 2 Ks – 8 Whiffs, 21% CSWSo the name of the game here was Plutko’s 87 mph slider that he threw 42% of the time across 78 pitches…and returned a 21% CSW. Just a bit too elevated for what we want it to be. He was able to grind out four frames and he’ll get another chance this weekend with Plesac and Clevinger each missing at least one pass of the rotation for being selfish and dumb, and I think you’re safe streaming Plutko against the Tigers. It’s pretty underwhelming, though.

Tyler Clippard @ MIL (ND) – 1.0 IP, 1 ER, 1 Hits, 0 BBs, 2 Ks – 2 Whiffs, 38% CSW. Full-on bullpen game here as Clippard hung a changeup that was BLASTED for a leadoff home run. What is it with Clippys always being the ones you don’t want to see?

Zac Gallen @ COL (ND) – 7.0 IP, 2 ER, 7 Hits, 0 BBs, 7 Ks – 12 Whiffs, 32% CSW. Gallen did a great job of spotting changeups and curveballs down while nailing his cutter high-and-tight to left-handers and failing to record a single walk along the way. Let me get this straight. After walking five in his first start and sending my inbox into a frenzy, Gallen has faced the Dodgers, Astros, and Coors, returning a 2.84 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 29% K rate, and 3% walk rate in 19 IP. That’s. What’s. UP. 12% SwStr along the way, paired with a 2.87 SIERA against three of the Top 5 offenses you don’t want to face. Yeah, you want to start Gallen always now and he’s one start away from an AGA label.

Kyle Freeland vs ARI (ND) – 7.0 IP, 2 ER, 7 Hits, 1 BBs, 2 Ks – 8 Whiffs, 26% CSWOn the other side was Freeland who continued to be the Toby we want him to be. His changeup was effective once again, electing to hold back on his fastball to just a 21% usage clip, even using it as a surprise offering high-and-tight. I love this. There’s still work to be done in the whiff department with this slider and curveball, while his changeup was elevated a bit too much, but the approach is sound and I’m still a Freeland believer. If this were a tougher offense in Coors than the Diamondbacks, though, I don’t think I’d have rolled with him. Be happy, not stupid.

Rick Porcello vs WSH (L) – 6.0 IP, 2 ER, 8 Hits, 0 BBs, 5 Ks – 9 Whiffs, 30% CSWWant to know what the ticket to success was for Porcello in this one? High sliders. Yeah, the pitch nipped the top of the zone a lot and while there were some that were crushed, he was able to escape with 41% sliders in this one. His sinker was plenty better as well – also often elevated despite coming in under 90 mph – and it has all the making of The Thief stealing another decent line. You don’t want this.

Martin Perez vs TB (L) – 5.2 IP, 2 ER, 3 Hits, 2 BBs, 5 Ks – 10 Whiffs, 31% CSW. Hey, this was pretty solid from Perez. He avoided the zone plenty, featured good changeups for a 38% CSW as they were featured 1/3 of the time, and even his cutter did good things again. Too bad it’s just 91 mph and you can’t buy into this in the slightest, though. I can see the balloons floating on the ceiling now, reminding us of last night’s Birthday Party.

Alex Cobb @ PHI (ND) – 5.1 IP, 2 ER, 3 Hits, 2 BBs, 2 Ks – 9 Whiffs, 30% CSW. It’s weird that we’re considering ordering the Cobbster Platter but “The Thing” is as good as ever with 8/34 whiffs here and great locations in the bottom third of the zone and below. His four-seamer isn’t doing well, though, and his curveball just kind of is, but as long as that splitter is alive and well, Cobb gets a god ole Vargas Rule label. That’s the highest praise I could consider giving him.

Brandon Bielak vs SF (ND) – 5.0 IP, 2 ER, 6 Hits, 1 BBs, 4 Ks – 11 Whiffs, 25% CSWI didn’t expect a whole lot from Bielak and this is what I had in mind for the most part, save for the lack of Win. I’ll take it though. Streaming Record: 11-8. It’s Rockie Road next but I think I’m going to sit that one out.

Gio Gonzalez @ DET (ND) – 4.2 IP, 2 ER, 6 Hits, 1 BBs, 2 Ks – 5 Whiffs, 28% CSWSure, that’s a pitching line.

Ross Stripling vs SD (ND) – 4.2 IP, 2 ER, 6 Hits, 2 BBs, 4 Ks – 5 Whiffs, 29% CSWBlegh. You want more from Stripling, who allowed an extra four unearned runs here. The Padres are smoking the ball at the moment, though, so I guess we shouldn’t read too much into this one. Keep starting Stripling, of course.

Jordan Montgomery vs ATL (W) – 6.0 IP, 3 ER, 4 Hits, 1 BBs, 4 Ks – 11 Whiffs, 27% CSWMuch better start here from The Bearearning over 30% CSW across all his secondary pitches. He left some changeups up and it burned him, but overall, I’ll take a PQS with a solid WHIP and a dub from JorMont. I feel like he’s only going to get better.

Elieser Hernandez @ TOR (ND) – 5.1 IP, 3 ER, 4 Hits, 1 BBs, 5 Ks – 10 Whiffs, 27% CSW. It was just sliders and fastballs here, which turned into a three-run blast from Bo Bichette in the sixth as he’d seen enough of Elieser. Well, it’s less so of “oh, he needs a third pitch” and more of “oh, his fastball isn’t good enough to make him a 1-2 punch arm”. Rich Hill doesn’t need a third pitch, for example. Annnyway I’m not totally out on Elieser, but most times the risk isn’t worth the reward.

Tyler Anderson @ HOU (ND) – 5.0 IP, 4 ER, 5 Hits, 3 BBs, 2 Ks – 7 Whiffs, 28% CSWYeaaaah, honestly, things could have been plenty worse against the Astros, but yeaaah. Not anything to write home about. Do people still do that? Maybe? Not really?

Marco Gonzales @ TEX (L) – 5.0 IP, 4 ER, 7 Hits, 1 BBs, 2 Ks – 3 Whiffs, 25% CSWBlegh. Gonzo was acting like a decent streamer against weak teams and the Rangers offense is sputtering plenty at the moment. He’s a Toby at best and maybe a deep streamer in the future. Hard to really buy in right now at all.

Josh Lindblom vs MIN (ND) – 4.0 IP, 4 ER, 7 Hits, 2 BBs, 8 Ks – 13 Whiffs, 26% CSWLindblom had it tough as he faced the Twins and while the ratios are suspect as anticipated, those eight strikeouts are sure to raise an eyebrow. He’s refined his slider to get more horizontal action and his cutter did a good job as well, landing glove-side plenty. The downside is a sub 90 mph fastball that is supposed to be closer to 93 mph, and that makes me a bit scared moving forward. There’s room for development as the slider becomes more of a consistent offering, but for now, that lowered velocity is pulling the threads out of this rickety rope bridge.

Kris Bubic @ CIN (ND) – 5.0 IP, 5 ER, 7 Hits, 1 BBs, 6 Ks – 8 Whiffs, 27% CSW. He got the Reds in a tough matchup and obviously got a bit banged up. The positives here are improved changeup locations and a good amount of four-seamer elevation, earning 35% CSW on his heater along. Bad news is that it’s a blegh curveball (0/16 CSW. 0%!) and there’s a whole lot of polish left to add. I’d avoid this risky arm in the short term.

Touki Toussaint @ NYY (L) – 4.0 IP, 5 ER, 4 Hits, 1 BBs, 3 Ks – 8 Whiffs, 28% CSWWe were a bit excited after his start last week, but this was the Yankees and this was a clear bench. Don’t let this start change how you feel. We weren’t grabbing Touki to face elite offenses, we were grabbing him for the Nationals after. Yes, I’m cool with that one.

Mike Fiers @ LAA (L) – 3.2 IP, 5 ER, 7 Hits, 2 BBs, 2 Ks – 4 Whiffs, 28% CSWIf you’re not having a FIERS sale, then you’re a hoarder. Don’t be a hoarder.

Tyler Alexander vs CWS (L) – 3.2 IP, 5 ER, 4 Hits, 3 BBs, 2 Ks – 4 Whiffs, 29% CSWI know, I know, some of you were stoked about the ridiculous K performance he had in relief, but this is the true T-Lex, sadly. Understand its true nature, nod in reluctant understanding, and focus on greener pastures ahead.

 

Today’s Streamer

 

For those unaware, I’m forced to make my streamer picks under the condition of sub-20% owned in Fantasy Pros’ consolidated ownership rates.

 

 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Philadelphia Phillies – No I don’t like this but Anibal Sanchez isn’t looking well and there really ain’t much else.

 

Tomorrow’s Streamer

 

David Peterson vs. Washington Nationals – I can see some going with Austin Voth on the other side, but his decreased velocity is scaring me. Tommy Milone is a deep option as well, but the floor is lower.

 

Day After Tomorrow’s Streamer

 

Framber Valdez vs. Seattle Mariners – Because y’all got the message on Anthony DeSclafani already, I’m going with Valdez as he faces the Mariners. Don’t love Framber long term, but it’s the Mariners with the Astros offense behind him.

 

Game of the Day

 

Carlos Carrasco vs. Kyle Hendricks – Two good pitchers dueling who can each go more than six innings? That’s my kind of jam.

 

(Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Creator of CSW, The List, and SP Roundup. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former college pitcher, travel coach, pitching coach, and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

  • Barry says:

    Montgomery or Gausman ROS?

    Thanks

  • Umpy70 says:

    Do you think Ohtani (Pitcher) is worth holding onto for next year (cost is 14$ in auction league). 12 team league.

  • Jack says:

    Weaver or Ray ROS? Or keep the final slot open for streaming?

    You rule Nick, thx!

  • BB says:

    Afraid you won’t get to say Kittredge anymore now that he’s on the 45-day DL with a UCL sprain.

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