Zack Wheeler Has Put On a Clinic in the 2023 MLB Postseason

Zack Wheeler of Philadelphia Phillies

There are several players that — at least as of October 17 — could be considered the MVP of the 2023 MLB Postseason and Phillies SP Zack Wheeler must be one of those names. The ace of the Phillies continued to roll in Game 1 of the 2023 NLCS against the Diamondbacks. Here’s a closer look at that start.

Related: 2023 MLB Season Recap: Boston Red Sox

The Continued Success of Wheeler

Despite the fact that Zack Wheeler owned a 3.61 ERA — still solid, but his worst since 2019 — that figure really didn’t tell the whole story for the Phillies ace. Wheeler continued to dice up opposing hitters and finished the year in the top ten in strikeouts and a sub-2.0 BB/9.

The 33-year-old did quite well in his first taste of the postseason last year and has been even better this year for the Phillies. That’s obvious when looking at his stat line — a 2.37 ERA through 19 innings and a ridiculous 26:1 K:BB ratio.

Eight of those strikeouts came in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Diamondbacks, a game that saw Wheeler throw six strong innings. His only real mistake was a two-run shot from Geraldo Perdomo that was off a high fastball that wasn’t poorly executed, but rather just a good swing from the D-Backs infielder.

Aside from that shot, very little went wrong for the righty. The Phillies hurler relied heavily on the four-seamer (55.5%) and two-seamer (13.6%), and that sinker proved to be a tricky one for right-handed D-Backs hitters. It’s a biting two-seamer with late run that can either jam hitters inside or get a whiff if the opposing hitter can’t recognize it.

Seventeen of Wheeler’s 81 pitchers were whiffs, much of which were high fastballs that the righty used to overpower hitters. And, it’s also a pitch that the 33-year-old can use to set up his breaking balls.

Zach Wheeler whiff map Game 1 2023 NLCS
Wheeler induced a ton of whiffs off his two-seamer and four-seamer, the latter of which plays up thanks to extension. But what stood out the most was how many hitters with Arizona just could not pick up the sinker run. Just look at the yellow dots out of the zone.

With a diverse arsenal and plus command & stuff, the decision to sign Wheeler to a five-year, $118M deal in 2019 looks better every day.

How the Phillies Look Right Now

Seranthony Dominguez, Jose Alvarado, and Craig Kimbrel all held down the Phillies’ Game 1 lead, created by the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper, and Nick Castellanos.

Between Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez, and a deep bullpen that did their job in Game 1, and has more arms to spare, it’s going to be very difficult for the D-Backs to replicate the magic Arizona had in both the Wild Card and NLDS rounds.