As Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler come off of disappointing and injury-riddled seasons, their futures with the Mets remain hazy. Though both were highly-touted and, in Harvey's case, experienced a significant run of exceptional success, there's a chance that at least one of them will be pitching out of the bullpen by the end of next season.
Rumblings about Wheeler pitching out of the bullpen started almost as soon as his major league career. As a flamethrower with difficulty pitching deep into games, it seemed to be a natural fit, though the promise of a young pitcher reaching his full potential as a starter was enough to keep him in the rotation even after his 2015 Tommy John surgery. But promise doesn't last forever, and the 27-year-old has yet to show he can overcome his deficiencies as a starter.
One of the issues that has always made Wheeler a frustrating pitcher to watch is his difficulty going deep into games. He has yet to average 6 innings per start in a season, and 2017 was his worst yet, averaging just over 5. Converting him into a reliever would instantly eliminate one of his biggest weaknesses, though it's questionable whether it would address the primary cause of that weakness -- his sky-high walk rate. It would also likely add some velocity to his fastball, which could potentially boost his strikeout numbers. And the smaller workload could preserve his arm health, which is in serious question right now.
Just two years ago, it would have been unthinkable to imagine Harvey in the bullpen. Coming off the best post-Tommy John season ever, he seemed destined for greatness, until 2016 kicked off cascading injury problems and increasing ineffectiveness on the mound. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome has ended many careers before, and a 6.70 ERA with cratering velocity doesn't suggest that Harvey will be an exception. He has seemingly lost the ability to strike batters out and has struggled enormously with the home run ball.
The velocity uptick that usually goes along with a move to the bullpen could offer a boost to Harvey's strikeout rate, but it's by no means a guarantee. He could also simplify his pitch repertoire, dropping his atrocious curveball and greatly reducing the use of his declining slider. A move to the bullpen, along with the arrival of pitching expert Mickey Callaway as manager, would be an opportunity for Harvey to completely revamp himself as a pitcher. And it's painfully clear that he needs that level of modification in order to remain a major league pitcher.
Given the immense worth of an effective Harvey in the rotation, the Mets are incentivized to keep him there at least a little longer, to see if a revamp of the coaching staff is enough to save him. But if it isn't, it makes sense for the team to convert him sooner rather than later, to try to salvage any remaining value in his walk year.
The Mets have a little more time to work with Wheeler, but ultimately, his profile suggests he may be the better fit in the bullpen. Given that he hasn't ever really been a force to be reckoned with, now may be the time to see what he can do in the new role -- a move that would highlight his best qualities while also providing a boost to a bullpen still lacking a real power arm. And by midseason, his old friend Matt Harvey might be warming up next to him.
Maggie Wiggin (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Archive Posts) has been a Mets fan since birth and a MetsBlog contributor since 2013. She loves throwing hard and hitting hard and hates the DH. When baseball is out of season, she fills her days with data analysis and evaluation and patiently waits for Spring