On-Base Perception

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Zack Wheeler could end up being even better than Matt Harvey

A composite image of Mets pitchers Matt Harvey,

A composite image of Mets pitchers Matt Harvey, left, and Zack Wheeler, right, who will pitch for the team on Tuesday. (Credit: Jim McIsaac/Alejandra Villa )

Tuesday was a great day for America's newest pastime: comparing Matt Harvey to Zack Wheeler.

The two crown jewels of the Mets' system have been linked and advertised as a devastating 1-2 punch ever since Wheeler was acquired for Carlos Beltran at the 2011 trade deadline. Harvey got to the big leagues first and has been superb. Tuesday was the first chance to see if Wheeler would be a worthy sidekick.

Or something more? Although Wheeler's debut wasn't quite as dazzling as Harvey's, the stats suggest the Georgia native could one day usurp Harvey as the Mets' ace.

Though Wheeler had a much more extensive development period than Harvey -- 81 games to 46 -- they both spent comparable time at Triple-A, where Harvey had a 3.68 ERA, 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.9 walks per nine innings in 110 innings (20 starts). Wheeler was very similar: 3.72 ERA, 9.2 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 in 101 2/3 innings (19 starts).

But it's important to recognize that Wheeler and Harvey posted those near-identical numbers in very different conditions.

Harvey pitched solely in the International League in 2012, when the Mets' affiliate was in Buffalo. Offenses there averaged 4.3 runs and 0.7 home runs per game. Wheeler got his initial taste of Triple-A with the Bisons in 2012, starting six games. But when the Mets' Triple-A team moved to Las Vegas and the Pacific Coast League this season, he found himself pitching in Cashman Field, a veritable launching pad in a league that already tends to inflate offensive numbers. Heading into Friday night, PCL lineups were averaging 5.04 runs and 0.9 home runs per game -- far outscoring the hitters Harvey had to face.

Yet despite being saddled with the punishing Nevada heat and pitching in an extreme hitter's league, Wheeler persevered to post comparable numbers to Harvey.

In terms of repertoire, Wheeler and Harvey throw the same four pitches: fastball, slider, curveball and changeup -- in order from most to least thrown. Harvey averaged 95.5 mph with his fastball this season, a tick up from 94.7 last year. His heater averaged 95.2 mph during his debut in Arizona on July 26. Wheeler? His fastball averaged 95.5 mph Tuesday.

Historically, it's difficult to use Wheeler's debut to project what kind of pitcher he'll turn into. There have been 22 pitchers age 23 or younger to throw at least six scoreless innings and strike out seven during their first start. But those comparisons range from All-Stars such as Luis Tiant and Juan Marichal to guys such as Collin McHugh, whom the Mets just sent packing to Colorado for Eric Young Jr.

But regardless of historic comparables, the bar for Wheeler won't be set at McHugh, Tiant or Marichal. It's set firmly at "Matt Harvey."

If Wheeler's strong performance en route to the majors is any indication, however, before long, Harvey's bar could be set at Wheeler.

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