Morning Mets Notes: Wheeler Ascending, Granderson Fading

By: Brian Mangan

Just a quick thought or two this morning, a.k.a. fun with early returns on stats.

Zack Wheeler took the mound for the Mets last night against the Arizona Diamondbacks and looked great.  The final box score isn’t going to show it, because Wheeler let a few D-Backs off the hook with two strikes, but he pitched even better than his 6.1ip, 6h, 2er, 3bb, 3k line would suggest.  Wheeler had the D-Backs off balance all night, was snapping off phenomenal curveballs, and pitched aggressively.  Here are three quick stats to help you feel some more optimism about our boy Wheeler.

1. Through three starts, Wheeler’s BB/9 is down to 2.60.  Last year, Wheeler walked 4.14 men per nine innings.  With his strikeout rate remaining the same (7.79 K/9), his K/BB ratio is now up to 3 (league average is 2.54).  Wheeler has always had major league level “stuff,” and needed to work on the walks.  It looks like he’s doing that.

2. Wheeler’s throwing the curveball more and it has been good.  Wheeler threw 9.4% curveballs last year and they were not a plus-pitch for him (run value of -2.67 per 100 pitches).  This year, he’s throwing more, and they have been better.  This year, Wheeler’s thrown the curve 12.4% of the time and the run value so far is +0.64 per 100 pitches.  But forget the stats a moment – did you watch last night?  That was an excellent curve.

3. Wheeler isn’t getting more swings and misses yet, but he’s in and around the zone getting ground balls.  Wheeler’s ground ball percentage has increased from 43.2% to 46.3% between last year and this year, and his first pitch strike percentage is up from 52% to 61.3% (league average is 59.7%).

Add that all together and you’ve got a young pitcher with an ERA of 4.67, but with a FIP of 3.77 and xFIP of 3.67.  Wheeler has pitched better than his ERA so far, and once he starts putting these hitters away (fastball velocity this year has been 94.0, league average for starters is 91.5) he will be even better.

Curtis Granderson, on the other hand, finds no such support from any source.  He’s been bad according to conventional statistics (.170 average, .291 obp, .319 slugging), he’s been bad according to advanced statistics (29.1 K%, 0.1 WAR) and now he is injured.Screenshot 2014-04-15 at 10.42.52 AM

Even worse, as I momentarily browsed his stats on fangraphs, was the startling increase in his swinging strike percentage over the years.  These are his swinging strike percentages from 2009 through the present, with his career average of 9.8% denoted in gray.

We learned last week that swing % and contact % are two of the very first statistics to stabilize and become reliable at the beginning of the year (as opposed to, for instance, batting average or isolated power which are subject to many factors and take longer to get closer to the true talent level).

This is not the blog taking an opportunity to crow about being right about Granderson‘s signing being ill advised, but rather, a warning to fellow fans that things might be worse than we even expected that they might be.

Granderson does have a low BABIP at the moment, so he can expect a little bounce back in average, but with an infield fly ball percentage of 15.4% and a contact rate of only 71.4% on pitches inside the zone, Granderson is presently a mess.