It was another productive year in 2020 for Philadelphia right-hander Zack Wheeler . Across 71 innings of work (14th-most in MLB), he posted a 4-2 record with a 2.92 ERA (3.22 FIP), 1.17 WHIP, a miniscule 0.38 HR/9 and a 3.31 K/BB ratio. Despite spelling his name with a K, his strikeout rate took a tumble in 2020, but we’ll circle back around to that a bit later, because that’s a huge factor in his fantasy value in 2021. Well, that has actually been the narrative around Wheeler the past few seasons. He made some nice improvements compared to recent seasons that should benefit him in 2021.

First and foremost, he posted a career low 2.03 BB/9 and a miniscule 0.38 HR/9 mark. The big reason for the latter was the fact that he allowed a launch angle of just 4.5 degrees in 2020. You love to see that! His fly ball rate dropped to just 19 percent, while his ground ball rate ballooned to 55.9 percent. You love to see that! Now, his launch angle against his slider has been increasing year after year, but after some increases in recent seasons, it was great to see a lot of these marks plummet down to Earth. Literally.

On top of the impressive launch angle, he was able to minimize damage in terms of exit velocity and barrel rate. His 85.7 mile per exit velocity and 3.8 percent barrel rate were both career bests, and came in at the 90th and 87th percentile respectively.

Wheeler has been good in recent years, especially 2020, but he hasn’t been as good as he can or could be. In 2020, he posted a measly K/9, his strikeout rate of 18.4 percent was well below the past two years, and his 22.7 whiff rate was his lowest since 2017. What happened? His SwStr% was up slightly from recent years, but his strikeout rate was way lower.

Well, his PutAway%, per Baseball Savant, was just 17.1 percent, which is far from ideal. Furthermore, his pitch selection in 2020 was interesting, especially when the batter fell behind. Yes, Wheeler has a good fastball, but even when he’s ahead in the count, he doesn’t get batters to chase it out of the zone.

When Wheeler is ahead in the count, of his five pitches, his fastball generates the fourth-fewest swings out of the zone. His sinker and curve do an excellent job of getting batters to chase, so please, use those pitches more with two strikes. PLEASE!!

What if I were to tell you the following three statements were all false?

  1. Of 29 qualified pitchers with at least a 10.0% SwStr, no pitcher had a lower K rate than Wheeler in 2020.
  2. Since start of 2018, 43 qualified pitchers have a SwStr of at least 10.6 percent, but only five of them have a K rate lower than Wheeler’s 23 percent
  3. Per Baseball Savant, similar pitchers based on velocity and movement to Wheeler are Gerrit Cole , Brandon Woodruff and Walker Buehler .

You wouldn’t believe me right? Of course not, that’s asinine!

What if I told you that all three of those statements are true?

You wouldn’t believe me right? Of course not, that’s asinine!

Those statements are, in fact, all true.

It’s unfortunately quite impressive what Wheeler was able to do in 2020. He severely underperformed in the strikeout department and he should definitely return to the 23 percent range for strikeout rate in 2021, at least. I truly believe a slight shift in his pitch usage could unlock another tier for Wheeler and push him closer to 25-26 percent and post a career high in this department. His 18.4 percent strikeout rate in 2020 was a career low and an outlier, so regression to the mean brings him back to around 22 percent. However, he can gain a couple more percentage points, and I believe he’ll do just that in 2021.

Wheeler has the 11th-most innings pitched since 2018 and he’s an arm that will rack up innings for your squad. He’s got a great offense backing him and continuing to induce ground balls will alleviate any concerns in his hitter-friendly park. Perhaps I’m more bullish on Wheeler than I should be, but he’s an arm that I’m comfortable with as my SP3 and I fully expect him to eat up innings, rack up the wins and post a career high in strikeout percentage in 2021. I love the value here.


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