Comparing Matt Harvey-Zack Wheeler to Other Young MLB Pitching Duos
The Matt Harvey-Zack Wheeler duo officially became a thing on Tuesday, and it was glorious.
The New York Mets featured both of their talented young right-handers in their doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves. Harvey got things started by taking a no-hitter into the seventh and ultimately walked away with 13 strikeouts in a 4-3 Mets win. Wheeler then tossed six scoreless innings in his major league debut, striking out seven to lead the Mets to a 6-1 win.
Harvey is 24 years old.
Wheeler is only 23.
As horrendous as this season has been for the Mets, at least it looks like they have an elite duo of young pitchers on their hands.
There aren't many of those out there. Per FanGraphs, the list of qualified starters 26 years old or younger is only 35 players long. There are only a handful of teammates in that mix, and an even smaller handful who boast a combined WAR of at least 3.0.
Note: Harvey and Jon Niese also make the grade with a combined fWAR of 4.1, but...nah...
Comparing Harvey and Wheeler to these guys is tough simply because there's a lot we still don't know about Wheeler. But based on the things we do know about him and Harvey, it's safe to make at least a couple comparisons.
We can start with the tales from the radar gun.
You Shall Know Our Velocity!
There's one thing you might have noticed while watching Harvey and Wheeler on Tuesday. Both of them throw really freakin' hard.
For the season, Harvey is averaging 95.4 miles per hour with his hard stuff, according to Baseball Info Solutions by way of FanGraphs. There's only one other starting pitcher in baseball regularly throwing that hard, and he goes by the name of Stephen Strasburg.
But for whatever reason, Harvey's usual velocity wasn't good enough for him on Tuesday. Brooks Baseball clocked his average fastball against the Braves at over 97 miles per hour, and ESPN Stats & Info had this to note:
Matt Harvey reached 100.1 MPH on Tuesday - fastest pitch thrown by a starter this season— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 18, 2013
In the nightcap, Wheeler wasn't throwing quite as hard as Harvey. Per Brooks Baseball, the slacker was only averaging 96.5 miles per hour with his four-seamer, and only got as high as 98.4.
Though he wasn't throwing as hard as Harvey, Wheeler was still having little trouble baffling Braves hitters. Of his 14 swings-and-misses, Wheeler got 12 on heaters. Harvey only got eight whiffs on his four-seamer on Tuesday.
You're going to want to appreciate the velocity of the Harvey-Wheeler duo, because there's no other young duo in baseball that can light up the radar gun quite like they can.
Right now, the hardest-throwing young duo in the league is Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, who both average better than 93 miles per hour. After them, the hardest-throwing duo is Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn. Miller averages 93.5 miles per hour, and Lynn averages 92.1 miles per hour.
We know all about how hard Harvey can throw, and the book on Wheeler has always had very kind things to say about his velocity. A few weeks from now, the two of them should be at the tippy-top of the velocity charts with no other set of teammates around them.
But it's not just the heat that sets these two apart. They also like to spin things more than your average pair of teammates.
It's easy to geek out over fastball velocity where Harvey and Wheeler are concerned, but their breaking balls deserve some props as well. They both have two good ones, and they're not shy about going to them.
And that's what makes them special.
Per Baseball Info Solutions, Harvey throws his curveball 13.6 percent of the time and his slider 19.9 percent of the time. That makes him a special breed, as he's the only pitcher in the 26-or-younger group who throws both a curve and a slider at least 13 percent of the time.
Harvey isn't wasting his time with these pitches either. According to Brooks Baseball, hitters have sub-.200 batting averages against both of his breaking balls. And while linear weights favor Harvey's curveball—he owns a 1.08 wCB/C to a 0.93 wSL/C—he's shown that his slider can be a downright dominant pitch.
Just watch it go to work against the New York Yankees:
Wheeler also features a curve and a slider. Time is going to tell exactly how dominant both pitches are in the majors, but they drew positive reviews in the minors and he was breaking both of them out a fair amount in his debut.
Of Wheeler's 102 pitches on Tuesday, 71 were fastballs. But he mixed in 12 curveballs and 18 sliders. That's 11.8 percent curveballs and 17.6 percent sliders, numbers that compare pretty favorably to Harvey's.
Want to know how many other teams have two young pitchers who throw curves and sliders at least 10 percent apiece?
Only the Los Angeles Dodgers know what it's like to have two young pitchers like that, as Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu both throw a ton of sliders and curves. The only other tandem that comes close is Mike Minor and Julio Teheran in Atlanta, as Teheran's CB% of 9.7 is just shy of our 10 percent cutoff.
Velocity and breaking stuff are where Harvey and Wheeler are similar. There's one area where they're a lot different, and where we can make another super-duper-intriguing comparison.
One's in Command, the Other is Still in 'Command 101'
When you watch Harvey pitch, the thing that stands out besides his awesome stuff is just how much command he has of it. He's not quite Cliff Lee, but he can generally put his pitches where he wants to.
Baseball Info Solutions has Harvey's Zone%—that being the percent of pitches he throws inside the strike zone—at an even 48.0 percent. Among the young pitchers on our radar, that ties him for 11th with Wade Miley. Harvey is also among the best at getting ahead of hitters, as he boasts an impressive 65.1 first-pitch strike percentage.
We don't yet have a BIS Zone% for Wheeler, but his command didn't pass the eye test on Tuesday. He threw first-pitch strikes to only 10 of the 26 batters he faced and ended up walking five. And if it felt like his fastball command was all over the place, that's because it was.
Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com, here's a look at where Wheeler's fastballs ended up:
And here's a look at which ones were and weren't called strikes:
The first plot shows how many fastballs Wheeler never came close with, as well as how many he left up in the zone. The second shows that he didn't get a couple calls, which will happen when you're not pounding the zone consistently and you're making your catcher's glove move too often.
But if you were watching, you know that it didn't matter. The same conclusion can be drawn just from looking at the numbers. Wheeler's stuff was nasty enough for him to be effectively wild.
There's only one other young duo in baseball that has a similar sort of dynamic to Harvey and Wheeler, and it's Darvish and Holland.
Holland is much like Harvey. He has a Zone% of 49.3 and a first-pitch strike percentage of 61.3. Pounding the zone is his thing.
Darvish is different.
His Zone% is 43.9 and his first-pitch strike percentage is 58.6. He doesn't operate like Harvey and Holland because, frankly, he doesn't need to. Darvish's stuff is so good that he can render the strike zone practically moot.
Darvish's O-Swing%—that being the percentage of pitches outside the zone he gets batters to chase—of 31.2 isn't mind-blowing. It ranks 13th out of our 35 young pitchers. Harvey is first with an O-Swing% of 35.8, which goes to show that he can expand the zone in addition to pounding it.
But then there's this: Darvish's O-Contact% is a mere 45.4 percent, by far the lowest among the 26-or-younger group. When hitters chase his pitches, they miss. Plain and simple.
Wheeler is probably going to operate along those same lines for a little while until he masters the art of fastball command, and that's OK. If Tuesday was any indication, Wheeler's wildness works pretty well next to Harvey's precision.
The "We'll see" caveat obviously applies. Harvey and Wheeler have only performed Act 1 of a longer production. The big picture could change drastically, and likely will.
But for now, it looks like the Mets have quite the duo on their hands. The similarities to other young duos are there, but the total package is something wholly unique.
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