Haz Matz: Is Steven Back to His Old, Ineffective Ways?

"Steven Matz" by IDSportsPhoto is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By: Matt Goodwin

In baseball, we are pathologically obsessed with “the next big thing” to come up from the minors. Sure, we drool over rookie quarterbacks and bell-cow running backs in football, but baseball is built differently. Trevor Lawrence will play in the NFL next year, but in baseball, draft picks take years to get to the bigs. There is an entire farm system set up to develop talent rather than depending entirely on the NCAA to take care of that.

This means we have time to be excited about the stars of tomorrow well ahead of their arrival on the big-league squads and, especially from a fantasy perspective, nobody wants to miss out on the next Mike Trout or Shane Bieber.

And pitching is especially tough. With all of the injuries and Tommy John procedures happening with pitchers you are younger and younger, exciting arms have to run a gauntlet that derails a ton of careers. You may be wondering what all of this has to do with an article about Steven Matz and the long and the short of that is this: at one time, he was going to be the next big thing.

Steven Matz was supposed to be Shane Bieber while people probably still thought Shane was the sibling of a Canadian pop-star. In 45 games between A-AA ball in 2013-2014, he posted ERAs of 2.62, 2.21, and 2.27. In fact, in 21 games in A-ball in 2013, he had 121 strikeouts.

Sure there’s a big difference between low-A and MLB hitters, but there was a blue ribbon around Matz’s neck and people were stoked for his emergence onto the scene with the New York Mets which came in 6 games in 2015 where he struck out 34 batters and garnered a 2.27 ERA. Then, in 2016 with 22 starts and 132.1 innings pitched, 3.40 ERA with 129 Ks. I know that ERA is not the end-all-be-all, but a deep dive in xFIP and SIERA isn’t necessary to make the point that Matz was a promising young talent who came up and was on the precipice of stardom.

Until he wasn’t.

He ran pretty hot and cold through 2019 and in 2020 he was 0-5 across 30.2 innings with a 9.68 ERA and 7.09 xERA. During the off-season, his time with the Mets came to an end as the Blue Jays acquired him in a trade that sent the Mets young right-handers Sean Reid-Foley, Josh Winckowski and Yennsy Diaz. Not exactly a King’s ransom.

But then Matz came out hot in 2021, pushing lots of fantasy players to add him to their rosters (myself included). Some had tempered expectations and were willing to take the chance on him and, at least, ride the hot hand while it lasted. Others were convinced that the breakout had come, a change of scenery from The Big Apple to Hogtown (this is real, you can look it up) all it took to reignite the flame of awesomeness in Steven Matz’s left arm.

His first three outings with the Blue Jays were Quality Start Wins, yielding just 3 total earned runs across 18.1 innings with 18 strikeouts and 6 walks. He was absolutely killing it. In his fourth start, he still earned the win but managed only 5 innings and gave up as many runs in that start as he had in all three of his previous combined (3). In his last start, he lasted just 3.2 innings while giving up 6 earned runs and striking out only two batters.

Regression is a son-of-a-gun.

Could Matz find his form again and really lean into his long-awaited true breakout, the one that sticks and makes him a perennial all-star? Anything is possible. But, as the saying goes, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Before we part ways for the week, something that is interesting to note here: check out the home/away splits; a bit odd:

Home /AwayInnings PitchedERAERBBsKsAVGwOBA
Home9.26.52746.325.401
Away17.12.605521.145.207
Source: https://www.fangraphs.com/players/steven-matz/13361/splits?position=P&season=2021

Maybe there’s something in the water in Dunedin.

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