Numbers suggest a rebound for Wheeler

May 24th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

did not miss a beat Monday when asked about the home run he allowed to in the fifth inning at Citizens Bank Park. 

“It’s on me,” he said.  

The Phillies had cut the D-backs' lead to one with a couple of homers in the fourth, but Smith crushed a 3-1 fastball at the top of the zone to start the fifth. Wheeler allowed four runs (three earned runs) in six innings in the 6-3 loss to Arizona. 

He fell to 3-4 with a 4.11 ERA. 

“I don’t think my command is what it has been,” Wheeler said. “It’s hitting your exact spots. It’s not throwing the ball high enough when you’re trying to go up the ladder. They’re just able to put the bat on it. It makes the at-bat a little longer and gives them more of a chance. I’ve just got to execute a little better.” 

Is Wheeler off compared to seasons past? Or are the numbers deceiving? Offense is up across baseball, after all. 

“To an extent,” Wheeler said, when asked if he thought he pitched better Monday than his line. “But at the same time, I had a bunch of chances to put guys away and I didn’t do that. It kind of works both ways. I had a lot of long at-bats tonight. A lot of foul balls. If I had thrown the ball a little higher in a lot of instances, maybe they wouldn’t have fouled it off. It’s on me.”

Let’s dig into Wheeler’s numbers: 

• Wheeler has 1.8 pitching WAR, which is tied for eighth-best in baseball, according to FanGraphs. FanGraphs’ pitching WAR is based on FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which accounts for things only the pitcher can control, such as strikeouts, walks and home runs. Wheeler’s FIP this season matches last year’s 2.89 mark.

His FIP is 10th best among qualified pitchers, and the difference between his FIP and ERA (1.21) is the third-largest gap among qualified pitchers. Wheeler has run into some bad luck and bad defense at times. Look back at the second inning Monday: a pop fly with a .170 xBA fell into left field for a hit, an error at second base prevented a potential double play and loaded the bases with no outs. Those plays add up. 

• Wheeler’s 3.56 expected ERA is based on the expected results from his quality of contact allowed (i.e. exit velocity and launch angle), strikeouts and walks. He ranks 21st out of 123 pitchers with 100 or more balls in play. 

• BABIP is killing him. Wheeler’s .327 batting average on balls in play is well above his career average (.298).  

• Wheeler has struggled stranding runners compared to his career. His 2023 strand rate (65.8 percent) is notably higher than his career mark (73.9 percent). Wheeler has tried to work through a quickened pace with runners on base.

“It does affect you, but I don’t feel like I’m battling it,” Wheeler said of the pitch timer. “I feel like I kind of have it zoned in, I guess you could say. It is what it is, I guess.” 

None of these numbers are meant to be predictive, but if Wheeler keeps giving up weak contact and missing bats, the Phillies should see a more typical Wheeler in the coming weeks and months.