Fantasy Baseball: Zack Wheeler does more for Phillies than they do for him

The Phillies' big problem last year, the reason they weren't really in contention despite the high-profile signing of Bryce Harper, was a lack of starting pitching. Or so the story goes, anyway.

And there's certainly some truth to it. Beyond ace Aaron Nola, the closest they came to a steady rotation arm was Zach Eflin, with their investment in Jake Arrieta two offseasons ago having failed to pay off. But their offense, even with Harper, wasn't exactly a juggernaut. They ranked 14th in baseball runs scored, actually one spot behind the division rival Mets.

It's notable because their latest big free agent signing, the one brought in to address the rotation problem, was of course with the Mets last year, going 11-8. So even in the context of supporting cast, it's not clear that Zack Wheeler's circumstances have improved (except for the minor detail of him getting paid $118 million over the next five years).

NYM N.Y. Mets • #45 • Age: 29
2019 season
ERA
3.96
WHIP
1.26
IP
195.1
BB
50
K
195

You could argue that Harper and Rhys Hoskins weren't at their best this past season, but the peripherals suggest they were closer to their expected baseline than not. It's also true that the offseason is still young and the Phillies may well make a more meaningful addition to their lineup than simply Josh Harrison

Still, even a hypothetical upgrade in supporting cast would be only a silver lining to an obvious downgrade in venue. The Phillies play in one of the worst parks for pitchers. The Mets play in, at worst, an average one.

Maybe Wheeler is better equipped than most pitchers to make that transition. No, he's not an extreme ground-ball pitcher, but he misses bats at least an average rate and excels at inducing weak contact. His HR/9 rate was actually the 13th-lowest among 61 qualifying pitchers this past season and was even lower in 2018. His numbers in seven career starts at Citizens Bank Park (a 3.27 ERA and 0.98 WHIP) are better than at Citi Field, though the HR/9 rate is slightly higher (1.02 vs 1.00).

Perhaps it's best, then, not to make too much of it -- not to downgrade Wheeler in the rankings or slap a bust label on him. A pitcher who throws seven-plus innings as consistently as he does (15 times in 31 starts this year) with above-average ratios across the board is a clear a standout in a league that's stacked against pitchers right now. My loose standard for an "ace" in this environment is someone with the capacity for 200 innings and 200 strikeouts, and Wheeler had 195 of each this past year.

So while my initial ranking for Wheeler heading into this offseason was 36th among starting pitchers, my inclination with this move is to keep him there, give or take a couple spots. But he didn't do himself a favor by signing with the Phillies. If anything, he added some risk to his profile.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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