The Zack Wheeler era began on a promising note.
Making his major league debut on Tuesday evening as part of a doubleheader at Atlanta’s Turner Field, the 23-year-old right-hander tossed six scoreless innings, fanning seven Braves batters and allowing just four hits. Wheeler issued a total of five walks and looked a little bit shaky early on, but he settled in quite nicely over the course of his 102 pitches.
The score was tied 0-0 when Wheeler finished pitching after the bottom of the sixth inning, but backup catcher Anthony Recker slugged a two-run homer in the top of the seventh to give the Mets the offensive spark that would lead to a 6-1 victory.
New York also won the first half of Tuesday’s doubleheader — a Matt Harvey outing.
Wheeler will make his second major league start Tuesday night in Chicago against the White Sox. He was acquired from the Giants around the 2011 trade deadline in exchange for outfielder Carlos Beltran.
“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.
Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:
Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?
There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.
As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.