Zack Wheeler Likely Needs Tommy John Surgery

Zack Wheeler, last week, in explaining why his current elbow soreness was no big deal.

The second issue — recurring soreness in his right elbow — raises red flags.

“It’s something that I’ve had before and have had to deal with,” said Wheeler, who is expected to take his next turn in the rotation, which falls on Thursday.

“Every pitcher in here pitches through pain at some point, so it’s just a matter of dealing with it and going out there,” Wheeler said. “It wasn’t affecting me all that much so I could go out there and compete like I wanted to. So I was going to do it.”

Today, though, the MRI results have revealed a torn UCL, the injury that leads to Tommy John surgery. Assuming Wheeler doesn’t try to continue to pitch through the pain, he’ll be out until roughly mid-summer of 2016.

This is obviously a significant blow to the Mets, as Wheeler had emerged as a quality starting pitcher. This is where they depth comes in handy, however, as the drop-off from Wheeler to one of Rafael Montero, Steven Matz, or Noah Syndergaard isn’t that large. Here are the Mets current depth chart projections for their rotation candidates:

#14 Mets

Matt Harvey 173.0 9.1 2.6 0.7 .297 74.2 % 3.07 3.08 2.9
Bartolo Colon 176.0 6.2 1.5 1.0 .308 70.3 % 4.00 3.80 1.3
Jon Niese 178.0 6.7 2.4 0.9 .307 71.2 % 3.91 3.83 1.1
Jacob deGrom 165.0 8.2 2.7 0.8 .306 72.5 % 3.53 3.40 1.9
Dillon Gee 98.0 6.7 2.5 1.1 .300 70.5 % 4.23 4.24 0.2
Noah Syndergaard 75.0 9.2 2.7 0.9 .310 72.8 % 3.54 3.37 1.0
Rafael Montero 28.0 8.8 3.0 0.9 .302 74.1 % 3.56 3.62 0.3
Steven Matz 37.0 8.4 2.8 0.8 .306 73.4 % 3.42 3.43 0.5
Zack Wheeler   56.0 8.8 3.5 0.8 .307 72.8 % 3.65 3.61 0.5
Total 984.0 7.7 2.5 0.9 .305 72.1 % 3.68 3.60 9.8

ZIPS and Steamer see Montero as Wheeler’s equal for 2015, while actually liking Matz and Syndergaard a little bit more. Of course, losing Wheeler means that one of these guys can’t replace another pitcher when a future injury occurs, so losing Wheeler is far from a good thing, but the Mets are at least positioned to absorb this kind of injury.

The problem will come if too many of Wheeler’s innings are allocated to Dillon Gee. He’ll likely step in and fill the void in the short term, but if he pitches like the projections expect him to pitch, he shouldn’t hold that spot for too long.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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I’d be OK with getting a look at Matt Bowman at some point this summer.