Everyone loves Matt Wisler and when the 23-year-old kicked off the 2016 season at a high level, fans of the Atlanta Braves were justifiably excited. After all, Wisler was a highly-touted prospect as he arrived in Atlanta as part of the deal that sent Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton (!) to San Diego, and after a bumpy debut season, it was enjoyable to see the pieces coming together.
Unfortunately, that lights-out start has come to an end, and Wisler is quietly (or not-so-quietly, depending on who you ask) struggling right now.
Through his first 68.1 innings of work in 2016 (ironically covering the months of April and May in totality), Wisler sported a 3.16 ERA while opponents posted a .343 slugging percentage against him with only six home runs. Since that time, the young right-hander has eaten through only 43.1 innings in June and July, and the results are ugly.
Wisler’s ERA has skyrocketed to 7.06 over those innings, lifting his season-long mark to 4.67 with a 4.69 FIP. While that overall performance isn’t disastrous given his age, opponents are slugging .570 with 12 home runs against Wisler since the calendar flipped to June, and questions about his lack of strikeout ability and propensity to allow the long ball have cropped up again with good reason.
On the positive side for Wisler, his well-publicized struggles against left-handed hitters have been alleviated, if only slightly, this season. In 2015, opposing batters posted a .419 wOBA (.320/.416/.569 slash line) from the left side of the plate, and that was enough to basically ensure Wisler could not be effective on the whole as a starter. This season, the numbers are still less than stellar (.353 wOBA allowed to LHB), but the improvement of Wisler’s change-up and off-speed offerings as a whole have helped to mitigate the issues he previously faced in retiring lefties.
Even with his recent struggles, Wisler is a significantly better pitcher in 2016 than he was in 2015. That makes sense given his age and experience level, but Wisler’s strikeout rate has risen from 15.1% a year ago to 17.8% in 2016, and the right-hander’s walk rate has also improved from 8.4% in his debut to only 6.7% this season. His lack of strikeout upside is easily the biggest flaw in Wisler’s profile moving forward, but the continuation of these positive gains could outline a path to future success.
Is it time to worry a bit about Matt Wisler? Well, maybe. The past two months have certainly been discouraging to some degree, especially when considering that Wisler’s home run issues have, once again, arrived. Still, he has been a positive overall contributor as a 23-year-old (0.5 fWAR, 0.6 bWAR) and any panic surrounding Wisler is significantly overblown, provided expectations were reasonable at the outset.
It isn’t a bold claim to suggest that Matt Wisler might just be a fourth starter moving forward and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. The next 15 months will be quite important for the still young right-hander, but even with his latest woes, Wisler should be given enough leeway to continue on his overall strides in 2016.