$100 Million A Discount For Zack Wheeler
According to reports, Zack Wheeler is going to receive a $100 million deal in free agency. The most likely scenario is going to be a deal along the lines of a five year deal worth approximately $100 million putting Wheeler at an average annual value of $20 million per year.
When looking at any potential deal, it is important to first look at how Wheeler has pitched in each of the past two seasons. The first thing which stands out is after missing two years due to Tommy John surgery and then having issues in his return from that surgery in 2017, he proved he was healthy.
Over the last two years, Wheeler has averaged 30 starts and 188.2 innings. This has the look of an innings eater, and the stats bear that out. While his 60 starts over the past two years rank 32nd in the majors, tying him with Max Scherzer and Mike Minor, his 377.2 innings pitched are 12th most in the majors. That’s roughly 6.1 innings per start.
In addition to being a durable pitcher who is going deep into games, Wheeler is pitching at a high level. In fact, he has established himself as one of the best pitchers in the game.
Wheeler’s 3.37 FIP is the 10th best in the game putting him ahead of pitchers like Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Batters make soft contact against him 21.2% of the time, which was sixth best in the majors surpassing pitchers like Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole. His 28.3% hard hit rate was third best in the majors putting him behind only Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard.
Wheeler struck out batters 22.4% of the time. That was the 24th best in the majors putting him ahead of pitchers like Madison Bumgarner. Overall, he had an 8.9 fWAR which was eighth best in the majors.
Overall, Wheeler was better than Stephen Strasburg in each of these categories with the exception of strikeout rate. He was better than Cole in each of those categories except strikeout rate and fWAR. However, you’ll note those two pitchers are going to command at least $200 million with Wheeler likely to command half that.
The disparity isn’t a matter of age. Wheeler is 29, Strasburg is 31, and Cole is 29. It also isn’t a matter of pedigree. Yes, Strasburg and Cole were first overall picks, but Wheeler was just sixth. It’s also not a matter of being overshadowed by deGrom. After all, Strasburg is in the same rotation as Max Scherzer, and Cole is in the same rotation as Justin Verlander.
Putting that aside, there are also valuation models to consider. Assuming a $8 million/WAR valuation, Wheeler was worth $29.6 million/year using the Baseball Reference WAR valuation and $35.6 million/year using the Fangraphs WAR valuation. Speaking of Fangraphs, their Contract Estimation Tool pegs Wheeler’s value on a five year deal at $161.4 million.
When you consider there is a feeling Wheeler has untapped potential and could be helped by a more analytically advanced organization, Wheeler is a pitcher who is going to be well worth the $100 million contract he is going to receive. In fact, he should prove that $100 million deal to be a real discount.