Saturday, September 20, 2014

Zack Wheeler Joins A Special Strikeout Club

We already knew Zack Wheeler was special.  Betcha didn't know how special.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

On Friday night, Zack Wheeler struck out seven Atlanta Braves in six innings en route to his 11th victory of the season.  In doing so, he upped his career strikeout total to 264, passing Matt Harvey by three.  It is worth noting that Wheeler has not yet made 50 starts in the big leagues, as Friday's seven-strikeout effort came in his 48th start at the major league level.

While it is true that several Mets pitchers have struck out more than 264 batters in their first 50 starts with the team, for many of them, those weren't their first 50 starts in the big leagues.  For example, Sid Fernandez had 297 Ks in his first 50 starts as a Met, but his first start in the big show came in 1983 as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Similarly, Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana both had over 300 strikeouts in their first 50 starts with the Mets (332 and 310, respectively), but of course, neither pitcher began their career in New York.

By posting 264 strikeouts before his 50th career start (with all starts coming as a New York Met), Wheeler has joined some exclusive company.  Here is the list of all pitchers in Mets history who recorded 250 or more strikeouts in their first 50 starts (or fewer, in some cases).  We are only considering those pitchers who made each of their first 50 starts as a member of the New York Mets, so a pitcher like David Cone - who made his major league debut with the Kansas City Royals in 1986 pitching exclusively in relief - can be included on the list, since each of his first 50 big league starts came in a Mets uniform.  Also, we are only looking at strikeouts recorded in starts.  Strikeout totals compiled in relief appearances (as well as innings pitched in relief) are not included in the chart below.

No. of Starts
Innings Pitched
Dwight Gooden
David Cone
Jerry Koosman
Zack Wheeler
Matt Harvey
Tom Seaver

Zack Wheeler has become just the sixth pitcher in Mets history to fan 250 or more batters within his first 50 big league starts.  And look at the other names on the list.  You have the three winningest pitchers in franchise history in Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and Jerry Koosman.  You have David Cone, who was traded away before his 30th birthday, but still managed to become the team's all-time leader in strikeouts per nine innings and is also one of just four pitchers to make at least 100 starts for the team and finish his career with a .600+ winning percentage.  (The others are Gooden, Seaver and Rick Reed.)  And of course, you have Matt Harvey.  Barring any setbacks from Tommy John surgery, the 2013 All-Star Game starting pitcher should become just the second pitcher in team history to record 300 or more strikeouts within his first 50 starts in the majors.  He needs just 39 strikeouts in his next 14 starts to become Doctor K's understudy in that department.

Now, as great as Wheeler has been in getting those whiffs, he has tended to throw a lot of pitches to get said Ks.  Gooden, Cone, Koosman and Seaver all averaged at least seven innings per start in their first 50 big league starts, while Harvey is just under six and two-thirds innings per start.  Even if Wheeler pitches complete games in both his 49th and 50th career starts, he will still be under 300 innings pitched.  That's less than six innings per start.

Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Jerry Koosman and David Cone are among the best pitchers in club history.  Prior to his injury, Matt Harvey appeared to be on his way to joining them.  Zack Wheeler still needs to work on his command before he can be considered one of the best pitchers to ever don a Mets uniform.  But for now, he is becoming one of the best strikeout pitchers the club has ever seen.  And by joining Seaver, Gooden, Koosman, Cone and Harvey, he's certainly in a class that very few Mets starting pitchers have had the privilege to be a part of.

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