Wheeler's Fly Ball Distances

The statistical quirks of Dan Wheeler is that he has had an insanely low BABIP the past two seasons, is an excellent ROOGY, and is an extreme fly ball pitcher (third highest fly ball percentage among relievers in 09 at 55.9%). With all of those fly balls, comes home runs. A 1.72 HR/9 rate gives his 5 K/BB a bad name (that equals a 4.48 FIP).  For a quick analysis into Wheeler's fly balls, we can use Gameday to find out how far these fly balls are going using the hit location data (Many thanks to Dave Allen and Peter Jensen).

I divided up the distances into three categories: all fly balls, fly balls minus home runs, and fly balls minus home runs and infield fly balls.


Rank Distance (ft)
Fly balls 22nd 295
Fly balls in play 18th 284
Outfield Flyballs in play 6th 304


Not good. Although Andy Sonnanstine was ahead of Wheeler in two categories so Wheeler is worst in the league or anything. But on a good note, Rafael Soriano was around the bottom for all three categories so he had a plus-plus season.

Why did I pick Wheeler? Because this was originally going to be a piece about his BABIP and using pitch f/x to analyze it. But I found this bit about fly ball distances much more intriguing and I am sure you the reader will too.

So here is a table of the Rays pitchers and their average distance on all fly balls (with at least 65 fly balls).


Distance (ft)
Sonnanstine 300
Cormier 289
Price 287
Shields 284
Garza 279
Balfour 277
Niemann 276
Soriano 261


Soriano is a beast. He is between Tim Wakefield and Tommy Hanson for the second least average distance. I am interested to where Niemann's average would be since his is so low.

Going back to Wheeler, the breakdown of average fly ball distance by pitch type is as follows in the table.


Pitch # Distance (ft)
Splitter 8 325
Fastball 40 305
Curve 6 303
Slider 26 269


Small sample size for his split and curve but the fastball is not necessarily a good pitch to be hit into play. Overall, Wheeler's fastball has a positive run value over the seven years Fan Graphs has data for.

That's it. Wheeler in my opinion (which changed with pitch f/x last year) is a good pitcher. Except for the fact that can make Rays fans cover their eyes every time an opposing hitter hits the baseball off of him.

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