The Time of Wheeler

Nick Pollack reviews every starting pitcher performance from Saturday.

Zack Wheeler vs ATL (W) – 7.0 IP, 0 ER, 1 Hits, 0 BBs, 10 Ks – 16 Whiffs, 37% CSW, 90 pitches.

There were some amazing performances yesterday but did you watch Zack Wheeler pitch? It was beautiful. His 97/98 mph fastball dotted both sides of the plate, even elevating effectively to earn 8 whiffs on the heater, and we got a taste of what his slider could do, spotting the pitch glove-side and down constantly. It’s still not quite there as it earned just 2/20 whiffs on the day, but there’s hope and with a fastball this good he’s going to excel often.

Oh right, how did he do? Just 7.0 IP, 0 ER, 1 Hits, 0 BBs, 10 Ks across just 90 pitches. And this is the real reason I wanted to feature Wheeler – the importance of a fantastic fastball to getting volume. Think of Woodruff, Buehler, Alcantara, Hendricks, Lynn, plenty of Tobys, you know what they have in common? Fastballs they command well and constant depth into games. Unlike secondary pitches that result in whiffs, fastballs more often result in outs, though the balance always comes in how many balls in play you want vs. missing bats. The very best of them can get those quick outs while also capitalizing on deep counts to earn strikeouts. Wheeler has the first part down and was able to turn two-strike counts into punchouts yesterday. I’m not confident he can frequently hint double-digit strikeouts quite yet, but there’s still room for growth in that slider and, well, any other secondary pitch. Here’s to hoping a bonafide ace is coming across a full 2021 season.

 

Let’s see how every other SP did Saturday:

 

Jose Berrios @ MIL (W) – 6.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 Hits, 0 BBs, 12 Ks – 18 Whiffs, 44% CSW, 84 pitches.

This game was ridiculous. Both Berrios and Burnes sported no-hitters after six, each with a HBP as their only blemish. Berrios didn’t make the same headlines as Burnes since he’s not sporting an upper-90s cutter that is just STUPID, but the man left without a hit or walk and twelve strikeouts. Flat-out dumb and well worthy of the King Cole. It’s no surprise that his curveball was working here, featuring a 59% CSW, but the bigger surprise is how he’s not only matching his increased velocity from 2020, but going higher as it was up nearly a full tick to 95.3 mph. Hot dang! If he can sustain that upped velocity, it may help nullify the stretches where Berrios loses his curveball. What stretches? Oh, right. Yeah so this is what Berrios does. He normally has about a month-long tear, throwing start-after-start like the line you see here. Then suddenly his curveball disappears and it’s…not what you want. Here’s to hoping he can finally put an end to the undulation this year but I’ll remain skeptical until I see it. Or don’t see it. You get what I’m saying.

Corbin Burnes vs MIN (L) – 6.1 IP, 1 ER, 1 Hits, 0 BBs, 11 Ks – 17 Whiffs, 41% CSW, 87 pitches.

On the other side of Berrios was Burnes, who is throwing his cutter three ticks harder than last year, earning a 43% CSW across 42 thrown. Simply absurd. I always like to mention that his slider is still being used at an 11% rate and a 40% SwStr clip. #JustBurnesThings. Before you go nuts about how this is the year of Burnes, don’t forget he threw under 60 innings last year and the Brewers have expressed that they’ll limit their guys heavily this season. So nothing really changes – he’s still going to miss at least a month’s worth of starts in some fashion – but man, Burnes is dope and makes you feel dope. Oh, and he gets an Aces Gonna Ace because, duh.

Chris Flexen vs SF (W) – 5.0 IP, 0 ER, 4 Hits, 2 BBs, 6 Ks – 8 Whiffs, 24% CSW, 94 pitches.

Welcome back, Chris. I’m so happy to see you Flexen your muscles this time, showing off a lovely cutter that returned a 32% CSW, clipping the top of the zone like the ole Colin McHugh approach. That can work, I just don’t know if he can do it regularly quite yet. The rest of his stuff is maddeningly mediocre, so this is a Toby at best. In other words, don’t consider him for MIN, HOU, and BOS to follow.

Tanner Houck vs BAL (L) – 5.0 IP, 2 ER, 6 Hits, 1 BBs, 8 Ks – 14 Whiffs, 35% CSW, 85 pitches.

I remember back in January being stoked that Houck would get the Orioles twice to start the year…and then was expected out of the rotation so I forgot all about him. Congrats, you played yourself. With Eduardo out, Houck stepped up and showcased that ridiculous slider, carving up the O’s for 50% CSW and eight strikeouts. I still have a touch of concern that there isn’t a whole let else – 85 pitches for five outs ain’t great – but he’s likely to get Baltimore again next time out and that’s a start for me.

Zach Plesac @ DET (L) – 6.0 IP, 2 ER, 6 Hits, 2 BBs, 4 Ks – 6 Whiffs, 18% CSW, 94 pitches.

Oh no, just a 18% CSW here and there’s a major problem. His changeup and slider were nothing like the crazy good pitches of last year, earning just 2/43 whiffs between them. He refused to pitch sliders to lefties, but accepted changeups to right-handers – a necessary change as I imagine hitters across the league are aware of his acute 2020 splits. Yeah, this isn’t it and it may be why he allowed all those HRs in the spring – his secondaries weren’t nullifying the heater. He gets another start against Detroit to get it fixed and I have to believe over time Plesac does, but yeah, this isn’t ideal.

Julio Teheran vs CLE (W) – 5.0 IP, 1 ER, 4 Hits, 3 BBs, 3 Ks – 7 Whiffs, 24% CSW, 90 pitches.

Look at Teheran, allowing fewer ER than Plesac. It’s a sinker/slider combo and it was…fine. Teheran is a sneaky play for solid matchups like this one, facing a bottom tier offense. Don’t get cute trying for more, though.

Ross Stripling @ NYY (L) – 3.1 IP, 3 ER, 7 Hits, 2 BBs, 5 Ks – 8 Whiffs, 30% CSW, 77 pitches.

I didn’t expect much for Stripling here given the matchup and I think Stripling pitched well enough to warrant our attention when he’s not facing elite offenses. Nothing really to note across the repertoire, save for 0 whiffs on 15 curves. Here’s to hoping he blossoms now that he’s holding a proper rotation spot.

Corey Kluber vs TOR (ND) – 4.0 IP, 1 ER, 5 Hits, 3 BBs, 5 Ks – 10 Whiffs, 35% CSW, 74 pitches.

The good news: Great ERA and lots of whiffs on his breaker. The bad news: he’s averaging sub 90 mph on his fastball after sitting 90/91 in spring and 91/92 in the past. The ugly news: He gets TBR, TOR, ATL next. Ugggggggh. Fortunately, the Rays are the safest start of the lot and we’ll get a better sense of Kluber, but yeah, I wanted more out of the gate. I will note, Kluber is notorious for slow Aprils and we can’t rule out that he needs a bit of time to ramp up. It’s a very reasonable idea and one I want to lean on. I’m just not ignoring that he’s not there right now.

Kohei Arihara @ KC (ND) – 5.0 IP, 3 ER, 6 Hits, 0 BBs, 1 Ks – 4 Whiffs, 19% CSW, 73 pitches.

I really wish I could have taken the time to predict a stat like for Arihara because this is so on brand. I know, he hasn’t even pitched in the majors yet, but it’s middling ratios with just one strikeout (HAISTFMFWT?!) and you never expected more than that. He’s a Toby at best and that’s about it.

Tyler Anderson @ CHC (L) – 5.0 IP, 3 ER, 5 Hits, 2 BBs, 7 Ks – 22 Whiffs, 34% CSW, 91 pitches.

You’re reading that right, Anderson earned the Gallows Pole on Saturday with 22 whiffs. TWENTY-TWO! What’s wild is he held a high CSW on his fastball last season, but mainly for called strikes, not those lovely whiffs. In this one, his cutter was fantastic, pairing off the four-seamer incredibly well, and he was able to run with that for seven strikeouts. I can’t convince myself to start Anderson for a repeat matchup against the Cubs, though, so yeah, just tuck this away for a rainy day.

Jake Arrieta vs PIT (W) – 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 6 Hits, 1 BBs, 5 Ks – 6 Whiffs, 30% CSW, 84 pitches.

We debated if we wanted to do this and I was conservative where I could be. Welp, the man did it against the meh Pirates lineup and we all applaud him for it. Do we do it a second time? Ehhhh. His sinker was super hittable and his slider command was far from what you want. Curveball was great, though, and maybe he’s able to keep its 37% CSW next time out. He’s a true Toby these days, though, and this is as best as you can hope for.

Charlie Morton @ PHI (L) – 5.0 IP, 3 ER, 6 Hits, 2 BBs, 5 Ks – 12 Whiffs, 42% CSW, 76 pitches.

After all the debates, Morton’s velocity, in the end, was back to ~95 mph. Phew. In normal games, you’d have seen Morton easily complete six frames here, but it’s the first start of the season and he got an early hook. You should feel good with Morton moving forward, especially since none of his pitches held a sub 36% CSW here. I wouldn’t be shocked if he got the AGA label back shortly.

Lance McCullers Jr. @ OAK (W) – 5.0 IP, 1 ER, 2 Hits, 3 BBs, 7 Ks – 8 Whiffs, 36% CSW, 95 pitches.

Ask yourself, what is McCullers’ best pitch? His knuckle-curve, duh. So then why is he throwing his new slider more than double than his curveball, and at a 50% CSW? The pitch went 17/34 for his most thrown pitch and it’s hard not to fall in love with it. Absolutely crazy! If that pitch is around constantly, he’s essentially a prime Cleveland pitcher with a fastball you hope he can sneak in for strikes + two elite secondaries. The only question is how many innings Houston lets him go for, but seeing 95 pitches on the docket here is as encouraging as you can get in start #1. This could be the true breakout we’ve been waiting for.

Tyler Mahle vs STL (W) – 5.0 IP, 2 ER, 4 Hits, 2 BBs, 9 Ks – 9 Whiffs, 36% CSW, 84 pitches.

I’ll definitely take this from Mahle as I had my concerns he would be allowed to throw a full five frames, but look at him, eclipsing 80 pitches in his first start. The strikeouts were there as his fastball was as brilliant as ever, his slider…well it earned a 36% CSW but it was hung a lot more than I’d like. Same goes for the splitter. I’m going to ignore it, though, as he gets the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Diamondbacks next. Plenty of time to get this sorted out.

Walker Buehler @ COL (ND) – 6.0 IP, 2 ER, 4 Hits, 0 BBs, 4 Ks – 9 Whiffs, 26% CSW, 90 pitches.

Aces gonna ace. Sure, you wanted more than four strikeouts but whatever, Buehler was in Coors and it didn’t matter. Here’s to hoping they let him go more than 160 frames this year.

Jon Gray vs LAD (ND) – 5.0 IP, 1 ER, 4 Hits, 1 BBs, 7 Ks – 13 Whiffs, 33% CSW, 82 pitches.

Hot dang! Does this mean we’re going to go through the anxiety and pain that is Jonny G for yet another season? Yeaaaah, nah. Sure, his slider was as phenomenal as I’ve ever seen it – 8/21 whiffs and 57% CSW – but he elected to go changeups over curveballs as his #3 and they…well they aren’t good. I’m not sure that slider will stick, his fastballs is alright, and it’s still Coors. I’d consider him for the luscious road start (maybe at Oracle Park next?), but nothing more.

Caleb Smith @ SD (L) – 3.0 IP, 3 ER, 5 Hits, 3 BBs, 4 Ks – 9 Whiffs, 29% CSW, 79 pitches.

Bleggggh. We weren’t starting Smith for this start – or really any of his early starts – but I wanted to see underlying skills I could trust once he traveled out of the storm. 90.6 mph on his fastball (1.5 ticks lower than 2020) and just 16% CSW on his slider ain’t it. I’m out until he forces me back in.

Joe Musgrove vs ARI (W) – 6.0 IP, 0 ER, 3 Hits, 0 BBs, 8 Ks – 14 Whiffs, 44% CSW, 78 pitches.

I feel like I’ve been waiting a decade for Musgrove to live up on his pre-season hype for once and…what is this?! He threw a cutter more than any other pitch?! Ohhh, okay. The sneks went LHB heavy and Musgrove is electing to throw back-door cutters plenty and Musgrove featured a legit six-pitch mix yesterday. Wild. The cutter worked and may be a useful tool against lefties in the future (47% CSW!) so that’s all kinds of wonderful. Meanwhile, his slider picked up right where it left off in September at 53% CSW and 7/17 whiffs, his fastball was sitting 93/94 instead of 92/93, and his curveball…huh. He didn’t really have his curveball (it was the #1 CSW pitch in baseball in September last year). Well, that’s fine, Musgrove has enough tools right now and here’s to hoping that pitch comes back as he throws more than 80 pitches in a game. Get pumped.

Lance Lynn @ LAA (ND) – 4.2 IP, 0 ER, 6 Hits, 2 BBs, 6 Ks – 17 Whiffs, 29% CSW, 99 pitches.

Well, we got what we wanted – 99 pitches, a bunch of strikeouts with 17 whiffs, and a good ERA. The bad news was a costly error that scored two runs and kept Lynn’s pitch count up. He’s the man we thought he was and you should feel good about this.

Alex Cobb vs CWS (ND) – 6.0 IP, 3 ER, 8 Hits, 1 BBs, 7 Ks – 19 Whiffs, 33% CSW, 97 pitches.

This may be the most impressive start of the night as Cobb scrounged seven strikeouts and a VPQS against the White Sox. “The Thing” was in full effect for 39% CSW and as long as Cobb has that splitter, there’s a chance he can do good things. Not great, but good. I’m still not starting him against the Jays or Twins…or Astros so just catalog this for June or something.

Logan Webb @ SEA (L) – 5.1 IP, 3 ER, 7 Hits, 3 BBs, 5 Ks – 12 Whiffs, 36% CSW, 97 pitches.

Bleggggh. That changeup that made us all so excited held just a 20% CSW for the night as, surprisingly, it was the rest of his repertoire that pushed the CSW clip to 36%.  Well, it was mainly called strikes – 19 between the sinker and slider – and while I’m not out on Webb, it’s only because he gets Rockie Road next followed by the Marlins. It’s worth it to try this again and hope that changeup has better results.

Matt Harvey @ BOS (ND) – 4.2 IP, 2 ER, 6 Hits, 1 BBs, 4 Ks – 5 Whiffs, 23% CSW, 86 pitches.

Hey, so Harvey wasn’t the worst thing since diced bread. That’s just croutons, ARE YOU WAGING A WAR ON CROUTONS?! What, no, sorry. Croutons are cool, I guess. ANYWAY, Harvey was a BSOHL guy and…he’s throwing softer and relied on called strikes here to survive. Yeah, no. No no no.

Rich Hill @ MIA (ND) – 4.0 IP, 4 ER, 5 Hits, 2 BBs, 4 Ks – 2 Whiffs, 30% CSW, 71 pitches.

The good news is that Hill was back up to 88/89 mph today after sitting 87/88 last season. The bad news is that his curveball earned one whiff and just 16% CSW. Not great, Bob. Given that we felt the Rays were going to limit Hill anyway – 70-80 pitches seems about right…? – I think we can sleep happily without Hill on our rosters.

Elieser Hernandez vs TB (ND) – 2.1 IP, 2 ER, 2 Hits, 0 BBs, 3 Ks – 6 Whiffs, 32% CSW, 34 pitches.

Blegh. Not only did Elieser allow his sole 2 ER from a HR him on a 3-2 pitch that should have been over at 2-2he was pulled from this game with biceps tendon inflammation and it’s unclear when he’ll return. Ouch. He’s a safe drop at the moment as he was a fringe arm in the first place and I can’t help but wonder what happens to the Marlins rotation. Sixto is already delayed a few more weeks with his shoulder injury, Edward Cabrera was dealing with an injury himself, and now there are just three arms in that rotation. Yikes.

Mike Minor vs TEX (W) – 6.0 IP, 4 ER, 4 Hits, 2 BBs, 6 Ks – 13 Whiffs, 35% CSW, 93 pitches.

So here’s the thing – Minor pitched great. I know, that ERA is rough, but it was efficient from the Rangers offense and Minor cruised outside of it. Fastball was back at 92 mph, both his changeup and slider earned 35% CSW (that slider is still working somehow!) and even a knuckle-curve did great things as well with 9/16 CSW. The bad news here is that Minor has a tough road in the short term – CWS, TOR – and I’m okay throwing back to the wire until he’s on the other side of it, but just don’t rule him out. The skill is there to be a solid arm when not facing Tier 1 offenses.

Cole Irvin vs HOU (L) – 4.1 IP, 4 ER, 7 Hits, 1 BBs, 2 Ks – 4 Whiffs, 21% CSW, 82 pitches.

Awwww. I’ve been avoiding most of the questions on Daulton vs. Irvin vs. whoever this empty Oakland spot would go to as their early schedule would be rough – Irvin’s next start would be against Houston…again. I watched a bunch of this and I’m not interested. Generally, for young arms I need to something that jumps out of the screen and I’m just not seeing it. I’d avoid until he does something that shocks us.

Adam Wainwright @ CIN (L) – 2.2 IP, 6 ER, 7 Hits, 1 BBs, 1 Ks – 5 Whiffs, 29% CSW, 56 pitches.

Oh no. The Reds are no joke and Waino isn’t locked in yet, earning just one strikeout and eight outs. HAISTFMFWT?! He gets Milwaukee next and I’d rather not.

 

Game of the Day 

 

Shohei Ohtani vs. Dylan CeaseIt’s the battle of two pitchers who we so badly want to get their command in order. This could be horrible or amazing. I’m also curious about Aaron Civale vs. Tarik Skubal because duh.

 

But Nick?! Where are the streaming picks? – I’ve moved them to the daily SP Matchups & Streamer Rankings article.

 

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

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.

5 responses to “The Time of Wheeler”

  1. Nick G. says:

    Happy Easter Nick!

    I’m razor thin on pitching this year, and i got Gore, E. Cabrera and Gilbert stashed (and eating roster space), which of these guys do you see making the most impact this year (or none at all).

    Also looking to adding a burnes, sixto, or I anderson and dangling Stanton or Olson to help, who do you think has the best potential of the 3.

    • Nick Pollack says:

      You should be asking Andy Patton that! He does the pitchers to stash articles over the weekend + is our Dynasty manager.

      He’s told me Logan Gilbert plenty, I think I’d go with that.

  2. CP says:

    Hey Nick,

    Who do you like better tomorrow for a stream (need a W, nl only) Matt Moore vs Mets or Trevor Williams vs Mil?

    Thanks!

  3. Not Nick's Burner says:

    Was Burnes’ AGA the most casual one ever awarded? It was almost a side note. The guy deserves a parade.

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