Today Newsday ran an article proclaiming Zack Wheeler’s desire to be the Mets’ Opening Day starter in the upcoming season. I must admit I absolutely love this type of talk from the highly touted second year starter, but I am far less enamored with it actually occurring.
I, as any Mets fan would be, am pulling for Wheeler to have a break out sophomore season in Queens and take his place as the Mets unquestioned number one starter at some point this season. This is especially important for the franchise given that ace Matt Harvey is going to miss the entire year due to injury. I also saw enough from Wheeler last season to think he has the talent to be an ace in the big leagues, but that does not mean the Mets need to put the added pressure, and adding expectations, on him that come with starting on Opening Day. It’s just one game out of 162, but when you are the guy who gets the ball on day one, the implication is there that this is your pitching staff. I don’t think a pitcher who will turn 24 just before the season begins and has made only 17 career Major League starts needs those burdens unless there is no other viable option. That is not the case for the Mets.
The Mets recently acquired Bartolo Colon, coming off of a terrific year in the American League, which is noted for being the better offensive league, where he posted an impressive 18-6 record with a 2.65 ERA and a 1.166 WHIP, which are considerably better than Wheeler’s 8-6 record, 3.42 ERA and 1.360 WHIP. So to me Colon is a better option than the young Wheeler, but not my first choice for one reason and one reason only: The Mets open at home this season.
I, as most fans, am partial to home grown players, so I wouldn’t want the mercenary player taking the ball on Opening Day in Flushing. It’s just a personal preference. That is why I would go with Jon Niese, last year’s Opening Day starter (remember last year there was a similar situation with the emergence of Matt Harvey) to get the ball on March 31st against the Nationals. It is only fair to note that Niese’s numbers last year were not as good as Wheeler’s, he finished up with a 3.72 ERA anda 1.360 WHIP, but they weren’t that far off. The benefit of pitching Niese is that he has made over 100 more career starts than Wheeler and is an established pro who has made an Opening Day start before. Niese is not an ace, and doesn’t project to ever evolve into one, but he is a solid pitcher and, to my point, a home grown Met who is liked by the fan base. To me, he is the best option for game one of 162.
Wheeler can get the ball in game 2 and go on to prove that he is the leader of this pitching staff from there. No need to rush it.