New York Mets: Comparing RA Dickey and Zack Wheeler
Not unlike the team's past, the New York Mets' present and future success is dependent on their pitching.
Their 2012 season has proven to be a losing one, but ace R.A. Dickey currently boasts the most wins in the majors with 18, and is looking to become the first Met since Frank Viola in 1990 to win 20 games.
The present is in the hands of Dickey, but the future's success is up to top prospect Zack Wheeler. On the surface, the two seem to have little in common. After a little thinking, however, you'll realize the pair of hurlers are a lot more similar than they seem.
Let's look into what unites the two Metropolitan gems, along with some details that separate them.
Similarity: Ability to Take over a Game
What set R.A. Dickey apart from the rest of National League aces during his sizzling summer stretch was the ability to overpower hitters.
During Dickey's run that included two separate one-hit shutouts of the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles, it was surprising to see batters manage a hit against the knuckleballer. Dickey was the king of New York, and the Mets were in the midst of an early season playoff race.
It was apparent in their play. From May 6 to July 5 of this season, he pitched to an ERA of 1.16 and a WHIP under 0.85. Dickey added nine wins to his record in that time, and his team came out victorious in all but one of those contests, going 11-1. Dickey struck out 95 in 89.2 innings.
Wheeler possesses the same shutdown mentality.
The Mets' top young gun experienced a strikeout-heavy stretch that resembled Dickey's run earlier this summer. While in Double-A Binghamton—from April 13 to July 31—Wheeler accumulated 113 innings while striking out 113.
By taking a look inside Wheeler's stretch, you'll find that from June 20 to July 14 he became stronger as his season went on by increasing his strikeout total by one each start. Three starts later—his last before a promotion to Triple-A—he set a new season-high with 11 punch-outs.
It's clear that the two potential aces carry the leadership gene with them to the mound every start. If a developed Wheeler and an established Dickey are ever parts of the same rotation—and there's reason to believe they will be—New York will have a legitimate 1A and 1B duo atop their staff.
Difference: The Way They'll Work Lineups in 2013
It's no secret—R.A. Dickey is unlike any pitcher in the major leagues.
That's not an overstatement. Dickey is the only remaining pitcher in the bigs to feature primarily knuckleballs night in and night out. His approach, which consists of knucklers varying in speeds, may be close to a polar opposite of Zack Wheeler's.
Wheeler uses his moving, overpowering fastball—which can touch 97 miles per hour (via Baseball Prospect Nation)—and a 12-6 curve to maneuver through opposing orders. As a traditional pitcher, unlike Dickey, Wheeler will likely face a learning curve upon his anticipated mid-to-early 2013 call-up.
With Johan Santana set to be making $25 million next season and the Mets in full-out salary-slash mode, it wouldn't be outrageous to think Sandy Alderson will shop Santana around the league throughout the year. With Santana potentially sent packing, Dickey would be the undoubted ace of the Mets staff by mid-season.
In 2013, Dickey and Wheeler will probably be pitching back-to-back in the rotation at some point—as the first and fifth starters though, as opposed to first and second, respectively. There may be times where Wheeler will show signs of brilliance, just as it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him struggle.
Dickey on the other hand, plans on being the staff's rock. With none of Wheeler, Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee or Jenrry Mejia over the age of 25, Dickey must be the rotation's unflappable lead man in 2013.
Similarity: Both Hard-Throwing No. 1 Picks
Once upon a time, R.A. Dickey was a fire-balling righty out of the University of Tennessee drafted 18th overall by the Texas Rangers in the 1996 draft.
A freakish medical discovery (via the New York Times), a few mediocre seasons and a pitching transformation later, Dickey now finds himself the likely king of the New York Mets 2013 pitching staff—a staff that will likely employ youngster Zack Wheeler.
Wheeler too was once a first round draft choice—he was the sixth overall selection in the 2009 amateur draft by San Francisco.
Like Wheeler, Dickey featured a mid-90s fastball to go with breaking pitches. The only difference here is that Wheeler, not unlike the rest of human beings on our planet, has a ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.
Difference: Their Tracks to the Show
It took R.A. Dickey 144 big league games, 442.2 innings pitches and 1,991 batters faced to finally make it as a major league star. From his big league debut in 2001 until 2009, Dickey was a member of three MLB teams (Rangers, Mariners, Twins) and five separate MiLB teams.
He pitched in 152 minor league games from 2001-2009. Dickey spent parts of seven seasons as an Oklahoma City RedHawk, a member of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
It wasn't until 2010, when he first was recalled by the Mets, that Dickey had finally arrived as a legitimate big league starting pitcher. In three seasons in New York, he's gone 37-26, at an ERA of 2.93. He's tossed four shutouts, including three one-hitters.
Zach Wheeler's road to the majors seems to be going differently.
Since being drafted in 2009, Wheeler has climbed the ladder up to Triple-A in under three full seasons. He is yet to be informed that he's missing any body parts crucial to pitching baseballs, and has held his own against Triple-A competition by pitching to a 2-2 record on a brutal Buffalo team that's currently 67-76, last in their division.
Wheeler expects to be a New York Met by the end of the 2013 season, and Mets fans are hopeful his first call-up from Triple-A will be his only one.
Similarity: Lack of MLB Success Before Acquired by New York
Then-Mets General Manager Omar Minaya signed R.A. Dickey to a minor league contract with an invite to 2010 MLB Spring Training on December 21, 2009.
At that point, Dickey was a career 22-28 with a 5.43 ERA. He was still relatively new to the art of the knuckleball, and his stock was certainly low following another mediocre season. The Mets decided to take a low-risk chance on Dickey.
The team acquired Zack Wheeler before the 2011 trading deadline. New York wasn't in a position to win, and Carlos Beltran was in his walk-year, and raking. Sandy Alderson flipped the potential future Hall-of-Famer to San Francisco, who had their eyes on a second consecutive World Series title.
The Giants ultimately missed the playoffs, and Beltran signed with St. Louis the following offseason—leaving the Gigantes empty-handed two months after trading their most highly-touted prospect in years.
However, the fact remains that the Mets brought Wheeler aboard with no MLB experience, let alone pro success. In this obscure sense, the Mets brass was taking a similar risk in the two separate transactions.
Difference: Wheeler's Early Change of Scenery
R.A. Dickey fell into the Mets' lap after several failed scenery changes at the age of 35.
Zack Wheeler fell into the Mets' lap by way of trading a top player who was likely leaving after the season anyway.
One thing to consider about Wheeler is his sudden organization swap at such a young age. His ability to master the tests of two organizations, sandwiched around a coast-to-coast trade at the age of 21 is a testament to the young pitcher's mindset.
The mental toughness Wheeler developed from the trade will help him weather any storm he may face early in his career, and he'll be sure to use knowledge he absorbed from the Giants system (that has developed Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner)—along with his Mets tutelage—to create a "Frankenstein" type of arsenal as a pitcher.
Dickey wasn't forced to undergo such a sudden change in the midst of his early development, which makes this yet another point where the two future Mets rotation-toppers differ.
The two pitchers compare and contrast well as potential teammates, and the Mets can only hope they'll be lucky enough to soon field a rotation led by the similarly different—or is it differently similar?—pair of aces.
Follow me on Twitter for more Mets insight at @JSDorn6.
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