When the Philadelphia Phillies signed Zack Wheeler to a five-year deal value $118 million final winter, they in all probability would have paid additional to make sure he would enter the stretch run with a 2.20 ERA and a clear invoice of well being. Certainly, Wheeler has been probably the most productive pitchers within the majors this season. 

Coming into his begin on Monday, he ranked fifth in Wins Above Substitute amongst Nationwide League pitchers, simply forward of teammate Aaron Nola. But essentially the most notable facet of Wheeler’s yr is just not that he is pitching effectively; it is how he is pitching effectively.

It was a broadly accepted premise heading into final offseason that Wheeler had extra to supply than his statistics recommended. We defined as a lot final commerce deadline, and doubled-down on that perception once we ranked him because the seventh-best free agent. Right here was a part of the reasoning:

Wheeler does have the innate traits groups like of their pitchers: velocity, spin, swing-and-miss secondaries, and so forth. It is maybe value noting that Wheeler’s greatest month per OPS towards got here in September, when he threw extra four-seamers than sinkers. His subsequent group would possibly ask him to proceed that pattern — and to pitch up within the zone extra usually, the place his pure rise can result in extra whiffs.

Primarily based on the mix of Wheeler’s efficiency thus far and the above statement, you would be on regular floor to recommend the Phillies inspired him to raise his warmth extra ceaselessly. You’d even be fallacious, as a result of Wheeler has veered away from the anticipated path and has as a substitute become groundball-oriented contact supervisor with one of many lowest strikeout charges amongst qualifiers. As of the weekend, his strikeout charge (5.8 per 9) ranked fortieth out of the 43 pitchers with 40-plus frames. His groundball charge (55 p.c) ranks fifth, primarily in-between dusty worm-killer Dallas Keuchel and Dustin Might, possessor of the 98-mph turbo sinker.

The drivers behind Wheeler’s new strategy are his fastballs. Final yr, his four-seamer generated grounders on lower than 40 p.c of his batted balls, whereas his sinker checked in at 47 p.c; this yr, these marks are as much as 53 p.c and 67 p.c. His four-seamer has modified in its motion profile, sinking extra and operating much less, and its diminished spin effectivity signifies the spin is contributing much less to the motion. He is finding the pitch decrease on common, which suggests the tweaks are intentional, whether or not they’re grip-related or what have you ever.

So, that is what Wheeler has modified — are these adjustments for the higher? Primarily based on his efficiency, it looks as if it. Not solely is he limiting high quality contact, however the contact he’s allowing tends to be of the groundball selection. Moreover, there’s purpose to imagine he’ll miss extra bats heading ahead. Check out a few of his underlying measures, by way of Statcast:

Swing%

50.6%

50.8%

Chase%

30.8%

30.5%

Whiff%

23.1%

22.1%

Wheeler is not prime Nick Blackburn unexpectedly. He is coercing swings and chases and producing whiffs about as ceaselessly as he did final season. It is simply not exhibiting up within the strikeout column but — even when it ought to, seemingly, in due time.

As such, the Phillies needs to be thrilled with their marquee free-agent signing, and Wheeler needs to be completely happy that he is discovered a method to faucet into his upside — even when it isn’t the best way most individuals anticipated. 

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