Wheeler and Balfour: Role Reversals

 

Poor Dan Wheeler. Everyone wants to ship him out of town on the first available bus. Is that anyway to treat Dwayne Staats son-in-law? The reality is Wheelz is just misused. It's a classic case of going from overrated to underrated. DRB often refers to Wheeler as "the King of Low Leverage." Some take this as a backhanded compliment to mean he can't pitch when it matters.  However Wheeler really does excel in these situations. Below is a table looking at Dan Wheeler over the last two seasons in low, middle, high, and very high leverage situations:

 

Dan Wheeler

Lev

IP

K:BB

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

Str %

FB%

GB%

LD%

Neg WPA

Low

22.1

7.50

6.05

0.81

1.21

68.7%

59.0%

21.3%

19.7%

8.0%

Med

26

2.11

6.58

3.12

1.38

66.0%

63.5%

20.3%

16.2%

23.1%

Hi

25.2

2.56

8.07

3.16

2.46

61.5%

48.6%

33.8%

17.6%

28.6%

Very Hi

9.2

1.25

9.50

7.45

0

57.8%

34.8%

52.2%

13.0%

16.7%

Negative WPA represents the % of outings the pitcher ended up with a negative win probability added.  In 92% of Wheeler's low leverage appearances he has a positive WPA. Notice the drop in strike % and the increase in walks as the leverage rises. When some of the pressure is off and Wheeler can focus on throwing strikes he is highly effective. While he has a propensity to give up home runs, his continuous pumping of strikes can minimize the damage of the occasional gopher ball. Walks make home runs more costly, and falling behind in the count increases the chance of a home run. Let's compare Wheeler's numbers to the other two bullpen stalwarts, J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour:

 

JP Howell

Lev

IP

K:BB

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

Strike %

FB%

GB%

LD%

Neg WPA

Low

51.1

3.33

8.77

2.63

0.88

64.2%

31.3%

53.9%

14.8%

21.6%

Med

26.2

2.75

11.14

4.10

0.68

60.4%

28.4%

49.3%

22.4%

38.9%

Hi

34

2.69

9.26

3.44

0

61.1%

30.9%

55.6%

13.6%

25%

Very Hi

5

0.6

9.0

14.4

0

50.0%

7.7%

53.8%

38.5%

42.9%

 

Grant Balfour

Lev

IP

K:BB

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

Strike %

FB%

GB%

LD%

Neg WPA

Low

41.1

2.19

10.02

4.57

0.87

61.2%

46.1%

33.3%

20.6%

34.4%

Med

18.2

2.20

10.61

4.82

0

61.2%

60.0%

30.0%

10.0%

29.4%

Hi

14.2

6.00

14.73

2.46

0

63.8%

44.4%

25.9%

29.6%

23.5%

Very Hi

6

3.3

15.0

4.5

0

64.5%

41.7%

25.0%

33.3%

25.0%

JP's effectiveness is mostly even across all leverage situations, though he has struggled in minimal very highly leveraged situations.  Grant Balfour is the polar opposite of Dan Wheeler. He throws more strikes when the pressure is on, while struggling in low leverage spots.

Let's group together low and medium leverage spots with high and very high and compare all 3 pitchers on two charts:

Low-Med

IP

K:BB

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

Strike %

FB%

GB%

LD%

Wheeler

48.1

3.09

6.33

2.05

1.30

67.1%

61.5%

20.7%

17.8%

Balfour

60

2.19

10.20

4.65

0.60

61.2%

50.0%

32.4%

17.6%

Howell

78

3.07

9.58

3.12

0.81

62.7%

30.3%

52.3%

17.4%

Wheeler is throwing 67% strikes with a 3.09 K:BB ratio, better than Balfour and Howell.

The last two seasons with Wheeler easily exceeding 50% FB%, he has seen a significant drop in BABIP while allowing more home runs.

Hi-Very Hi

IP

K:BB

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

Strike %

FB%

GB%

LD%

Wheeler

35.1

1.94

8.41

4.33

1.78

60.4%

45.4%

38.1%

16.5%

Balfour

20.2

4.86

14.81

3.05

0

64.0%

43.6%

25.6%

30.8%

Howell

39

1.90

9.23

4.85

0

59.1%

27.7%

55.3%

17.0%

In 59.2 combined high leverage innings, Balfour and Howell have not allowed a home run. Balfour's 14.81 K rate is amazing especially when juxtaposed to his decreased 3.05 walk rate. Wheeler's 1.78 HR/9 with 4.33 BB/9 late in close ball games will not cut it and has been a source of frustration for the fan base.  It's time to put the King on Low Leverage in situations where he can have a higher degree of success. It seems pretty clear that Wheeler and Balfour's roles should be reversed. However, Dan Wheeler can still be a very effective part of this bullpen.

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