Lefties are an odd bunch. So in demand, yet, as prospects, they often don’t develop as predictably as their right-handed counter parts. While some elite lefties come out of the gate strong like Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale and Cole Hamels, many need a few years to find their groove. Be it mechanics, control or injuries, even some Hall of Fame lefties struggled in their first few seasons in the big leagues.
Randy Johnson went on to become perhaps the most dominant left-handed pitcher in MLB history, yet in his first three seasons, over 65 starts, he amassed a 1.4 WHIP and 4.03 ERA. Early in his career, the Big Unit struggled mightily with control, leading the league three times in walks and twice in batters hit by pitch.
Other great lefties who got off to tough starts include Cliff Lee, Tom Glavine, Dallas Keuchel, Jon Lester and Johan Santana. But, for comparison sake, the player who Steven Matz may best resemble on paper is our old friend Al Leiter. The lefty starter won 162 games with a 3.80 ERA over a 19-year big league career, including some impressive post season highlights. However, he too got off to a rocky start in the Majors. In his first few years as a Yankee, Leiter struggled to stay healthy with a laundry list of nagging injuries that had him shuttling back and forth between the disabled list, the bullpen, AAA and the big league rotation.
After a few more injury riddled seasons in Toronto, Leiter finally became a rotation mainstay at age 28. However it took him a few more seasons to get his walks down (he also led the league in that category a few times) to really become an effective pitcher. From age 29 through 39, spanning the last 11 seasons of his career, Leiter never made fewer than 26 starts and his ERA was below 3.5 in six of those seasons.
Through three partial seasons and now 26 years old, Matz owns a 3.99 ERA through 41 starts. While he shares the same pitching hand, local roots, and early injury history as Leiter, Matz possesses both better velocity and control. He also, by all accounts, is mechanically sound. It’s hard to say if 2018 will be his breakout year, but if any player on the Mets screams “don’t trade me or I’ll blossom with another team” it’s Matz.