Zack Wheeler is currently expected to begin the 2018 season as an option for the Mets' rotation, but should the team move him to the bullpen?
SNY's Nelson Figueroa, while noting that Wheeler needs to harness his control, said during Mets Hot Stove on Thursday night on SNY that Wheeler could excel in the bullpen.
"I'd love to see him as a reliever," Figueroa said. "I think if he can just focus on being a two-pitch pitcher in that bullpen, that 98 mile per hour fastball will play up and that slider/curveball combination can be deadly."
Wheeler's fastball averaged 94.6 MPH in 2017, while his slider averaged 87.9 MPH. He also featured a curveball and changeup.
Wheeler, who missed the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery, battled injuries and ineffectiveness last season, posting a 5.21 ERA and 1.58 WHIP with 81 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings (17 starts).
The 27-year-old had a 3.54 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 2014 -- his last season before Tommy John surgery -- while striking out 9.1 batters per nine innings.
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Moving Zack Wheeler to the bullpen should be a no-brainer. The only thing that would make me hesitate is if the Mets do end up trading one of their other starters such as Matt Harvey or Steven Matz and they need someone with starter experience to fill that void. But, even if this does happen, Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman can be the ones to pop in, with Wheeler in the bullpen.
Wheeler has had a rocky time (to be generous) since undergoing Tommy John surgery. He didn't even make it back to the bigs in 2015 and 2016, and not only had difficulties staying healthy in 2017 but had a 5.21 ERA when he was in the game. Moving to the bullpen could definitely be in his best interest both to take the pressure of being a starter off of him and to focus on one or two great pitches instead of an entire arsenal of them.
We know that Wheeler has some great stuff. We know that he once was one of our exciting, reliable pitchers (anyone else remember how excited we all got for Harvey-Wheeler day back in 2013?). Unfortunately, we just haven't seen much success from them recently. Is there any harm in trying Wheeler out in the bullpen to see if that's better? Not really. In fact, it should only help his performance on the mound, and improve the bullpen, which we know still needs help.