Selecting the MVP of a team that finished under .500 and out of the playoffs is sometimes difficult. I mean, if the team’s subpar, who’s really all that valuable?
This year isn’t a difficult decision when you think about it.
Zack Wheeler quietly had a dominant, consistent 2020 season. And if he continues to pitch this way for the Phillies, they may not have to worry about missing the postseason next season.
The 30-year-old made 11 starts in the truncated 2020 season, missing one to a torn fingernail in September. He pitched at least 5 2/3 innings in all of them. While that doesn’t sound all that amazing, here’s the list of pitchers who lasted that long in every start they made in 2020:
Zack Wheeler. That’s it.
Despite missing that one start in September, he finished tied with Atlanta’s Max Fried atop all NL pitchers with 2.9 bWAR. He led the NL in home runs allowed per 9 IP (0.38), and was second in double play grounders induced (13).
He finished in the top ten in the National League in BB/9 IP (3rd), ERA (8th), opponents’ slugging percentage (7th) and innings pitched (9th).
Wheeler's 2.92 ERA was a career best. He finished with a meager 4-2 record, but – and this may be the most important stat of all – he left the game with a lead in eight of his 11 starts. That means the Phillies’ infamous bullpen cost him four wins, and likely some Cy Young award consideration.
Another 2020 stat that really jumps out compared with the rest of his career is percentage of ground balls hit by the opposition. That number hung in the mid-40s throughout most of his career, but in 2020 it was 55.9%. You can connect the dots with several of his other stats from this one alone. More ground balls equals more chances for double plays. Fewer fly balls (19.1%, also by far a career low) translates to fewer chances for those fly balls to leave the ballpark.
These are numbers Wheeler and the Phillies can certainly build on in 2021 and beyond. If he keeps this up, the top of the rotation is one thing the new Phillies general manager won’t have to worry about.