Baseball

We Can Plant A House, Or We Can Build A Tree – No, Screw You AJ, We’ll Take Zack Wheeler

Earlier today, our comrade and Sox correspondent AJ wrote up why and how the Pale Hose should be interested in Zack Wheeler to boost the Sox rotation that needs it. But here’s the thing: no one cares about the White Sox, and really everyone’s energy should be put into putting the Cubs back among the elite of MLB (THE! ELITE! THE THE ELITE!). And I don’t mean just us here. I mean everyone in the world. Do you really want to live through another season of the Cardinals boasting about their geniusness when they were essentially a mediocre team that had everything fall into its lap? Of course you don’t. No one wants that. And the only person who minds the Twins winning the AL Central again is Fifth Feather, and he’s a miserable little man living in his hovel and laughing at all of you constantly. He doesn’t like you, never will, so why should you do anything for him? Exactly.

So let’s get Wheeler to the Northside instead.

Why A Spoon, Sire?: AJ laid it out, but basically Wheeler is the youngest available and realistic starting pitcher on the market. Stephen Strasburg is not walking through that door (and the Cubs might and probably should be gunshy about signing any pitcher out of a World Series team who has gone longer on innings than ever before, given how their Brandon Morrow and first year of Darvish experiences worked out). Gerrit Cole is not walking through that door. I’d love it if one of them did, but it’s not going to happen. Funny how Cubs and Sox fans are dealing with the same thing in that sense, no?

That doesn’t mean Wheeler is exactly young, as he’ll turn 30 in May of next season. But the rest of the Cubs rotation is old, as so will Kyle Hendricks and Lester, Q, and Darvish are over 30. Adbert Alzolay won’t be ready for the rotation this year, if ever, and the Cubs just have to get younger there.

While Wheeler doesn’t have the strikeout numbers of some, he’s been pretty solid in that category. And while the injuries are a worry, more encouragingly is that Wheeler’s stuff seems to be getting better the farther he’s gotten away from his TJ surgery. Look at his four-seam velocity:

Or the vertical drop on his curve:

Or the sweep of his slider:

So that’s all very encouraging. If you want to go by spin-rate, both his curve and slider have picked up spin-rate from 2018 to this past one. So while he did miss two and a half seasons thanks to injury, that’s also wear and tear he hasn’t piled up. So the fear of his stuff drying up in his early 30s isn’t as high as it might be, and he appears to be on the upswing you might have expected at ages 26-28, had he a clean bill of health.

Ein minuten bitte, vous einen kleinen problemo avec de religione (he was from everywhere): As AJ said, the injury worries are still there. But he made 29 starts in 2018 and 31 this year, and really just being around 30 is basically what you expect of any starters but the top echelon these days. With the presence of Chatwood and hopefully Azolay in the pen and both being stretched out enough to go multiple innings now, the Cubs can absorb a pitcher or two that don’t make the post 33-35 times per year. And Alec Mills and Colin Rea are lying around as well.

There’s another slight worry, and that’s his ERA-. That’s league-adjusted, and it didn’t love Wheeler last year, giving him only a 98 where 100 is average. It was much more kind to him in ’18 with an 87. The reason probably is that Wheeler gave up a lot more hits in 2019, 46 more in just 13 more innings. Some of that is pure luck, as Wheeler’s BABIP rose to .311 from .279. But the latter number is more the outlier as Wheeler has a career BABIP of .300 on the nose. Wheeler’s hard-contact rate against and his exti velocity both saw a tick up this year. But as we keep saying, whose didn’t? Among starting pitchers, Wheeler was in the top-10 in average exit-velocity against. And as I’ve pointed out, the stuff seems to be getting better.

Little Silver? Little Gold?: MLBTR has Wheeler getting $20M for five years from the Phillies, because the Arrieta signing has gone so well, Nick Pivetta turned into Grover, Aaron Nola really struggled in the season’s last month. You don’t think of Wheeler as a $20M pitcher, but given his last two years that’s probably what he is. If you go by the last two years cumulative, he’s got the same WAR as Patrick Corbin had. He’s the same age as Nathan Eovaldi was last year, with some of the same injury concerns, and Eovaldi got $17M a year to sit on a trainer’s table in Boston.

MLBTR lists half the league as possible suitors, because again, why wouldn’t you want a plus pitcher on your team. That’s only going to drive his price up. But still, he’s going to get a salary a class below Strasburg and Cole. And the Cubs will have some $30M coming off the books when Lester’s and Quintana’s deals are up. Because of the bargain they’ll still be getting Hendricks at, they can splurge a bit in another spot.

And the Cubs could use another pitcher with really good stuff. That’s the kind of thing that matters in October, and this is still a team that should keep in mind how to negotiate 11 bonus wins after the 162.

Fetch. And AJ smells anyway. You don’t want to play in front of him, Zack.

 

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