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Zack Wheeler should be the Twins top free agent priority

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Wheeler has the upside to be the ace of a staff. Can the Twins unlock his full potential?

MLB: Miami Marlins at New York Mets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

News came out that the Twins were talking with Zack Wheeler and his camp the other day:

Zack Wheeler is going to get paid this winter, as he is one of the best starting pitchers on the open market. He has had two really solid seasons in a row, and now is deservedly in line for around $20 million per year for the next four to five years. I hate to ruin your day, but the Twins will not sign Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. With that said, Zack Wheeler is my top free agent target (excluding those two) because he is already an All Star caliber player with even more upside.

He has been an above average pitcher over the last two seasons and he stepped up to earn the inevitable contract last season:

  • 3.96 ERA (4.54 MLB AVG)
  • 3.48 FIP (4.51 MLB AVG)
  • 8.98 K/9 (8.58 MLB AVG)
  • 2.30 BB/9 (2.96 MLB AVG)
  • 31.4 hard hit% (38.4 MLB AVG)
  • 4.7 WAR (15th among MLB pitchers)

He is definitely an above average pitcher and he might be a bit underrated based on his effectiveness last season. I believe he can be even better.

According to BaseballSavant, the most similar pitcher to Zack Wheeler based on velocity and movement last season was free agent Gerrit Cole. In 2018, the most similar pitcher to Wheeler was Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom.

Wheeler matches up well with those two because of how good his fastball can be. He throws it at about 97 MPH and can top out at 100, and he compliments it well with a rare 91 MPH slider. Both were very good, but he just can’t seem to increase his strikeout percentage—which seems to be the key to becoming the best version of himself.

One of Wheeler’s problems seems to be locating the fastball with two strikes. The movement and velocity are extremely similar, but Cole has learned how to get the swing and miss. These two graphics illustrate each pitcher’s fastball with two strikes. Wheeler (left) leaves the pitches right over the middle, while Cole (right) tends to hit the top of the zone or above with the fastball to generate more strikeouts.

Zack Wheeler is definitely not Gerrit Cole and he probably never will be, but he has a lot of upside. Wheeler will be entering his 6th season next year, and when Cole was at this point in his career he had roughly the same stats. Wheeler actually has a higher career K/9 than Cole had entering his 6th season. All it took for him to take that next step in his career was the Astros picking him up and fixing him. At the time, the Astros were known as one of baseball’s most advanced teams in player development.

The Twins have now entered the conversation as one of baseballs most advanced teams in terms of getting the most out of their players. Zack Wheeler has been on the mess they call the New York Mets his whole career. If a team is going to sign him and turn him into an ace, I hope it is the Twins. A rotation led by Wheeler, Berrios, and hopefully Odorizzi would be very good.

Where does Wheeler rank in your free agent list? Is he someone you hope to see the Twins go after? Leave a comment and discuss below.