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2021 report card: Zack Wheeler

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Was he robbed of a Cy Young? Yes, yes he was.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

I’ll be honest: I never saw a season like this coming from Zack Wheeler.

I think we all had a pretty good idea that he’d be a top starting pitcher when the Phillies signed him in 2019, but to have a season like this? I sure didn’t see it coming.

Too bad the baseball writers didn’t reward him as they should have.

2021 stats

213 13 IP, 29.1 K%, 5.4 BB%, 0.68 HR/9, 1.01 WHIP, 2.78 ERA (2.59 FIP), 7.3 fWAR

The good

What more is there to say?

In 2021, Wheeler established career bests in the following:

  • Innings pitched - 213 13
  • Complete games - 3
  • Shutouts - 2
  • ERA - 2.78
  • FIP - 2.59
  • Strikeouts - 247(!)
  • OPS allowed - .586
  • Walk rate - 5.4%
  • Strikeout rate - 29.1%

And plenty of other smaller stats as well that could make the list go on and on. He was dominant, magnificent, terrific, <insert favorite adjective>, everything.

Perhaps the best thing to describe him is the term that pitchers love to hear the most: he was, in every definition of the word, an Ace.

The bad

None. Instead, I’m going to rant.

Corbin Burnes is a solid choice for Cy Young. He was absolutely dominant in almost every way in 2021 and was a deserving winner.

Wheeler was the best choice to be the Cy Young winner though.

Maybe it’s me becoming a crotchety old man, but I still believe that innings mean something. Pitchers are paid to pitch. I understand the logic behind not wanting starters to face a lineup a third time and Burnes shouldn’t be penalized for his manager’s decision, but Milwaukee pulled Burnes because they had a stud filled bullpen to turn to. Craig Counsell was comfortable pulling Burnes early since he knew that he had the game pretty much well in hand when he could trot out his bullpen as often as he did.

Joe Girardi did not have such fortune in bullpen construction, meaning he had to lean on Wheeler a little bit more. It’s not as though he rode him too hard. There was a stretch of games early in the season where he threw 108, 105, 114, 97 and 118 pitches in five consective starts, but in the following five starts, Girardi backed off a bit, only letting him throw 98, 92, 98, 101 and 101 pitches. In those ten games, Wheeler threw 70 13 innings of 2.55 ERA baseball where he allowed an OPS of .557. Did it affect him? Well, in his next six starts before the All-Star game, he threw 37 13 innings of 1.69 ERA ball with an OPS of .518. Doesn’t look like the workload hurt him too much.

This is rambling a bit, but to me, having a pitcher available to throw as many innings as Wheeler did while maintaining the level of dominance he had reached is not to be overlooked. While Wheeler did finish with as many first place votes as Burnes, he should have finished in first place overall.

Innings mean something.

The future

The Phillies have him for three more seasons. He’ll probably decline a bit each season from his 2021 heights, but even those so called “decline seasons” are going to be outstanding. He’s a pitcher, so you always have to be wary of injury, but barring bad health, he should continue to be among the top 7-10 pitchers for those next three seasons.

Final grade: A+

No more needs to be said. He was outstanding and might be the best contract in the game right now.