Steven Matz allowed just one earned run over 6.2 IP in the Mets’ win Saturday night. It was the fourth Quality Start in the last five games for Matz. And the one outing where he didn’t register a QS in that span he was well on his way before being sidetracked by a blister problem. In that game, he allowed just one hit over three scoreless innings before he had to come out of the game.
If you were just to look at his season line of 3-4 with a 3.31 ERA, you’d probably conclude that Matz has suffered from some of the same lack of run support as Jacob deGrom. And while that’s true to a certain extent, it’s hard to compare anyone to what deGrom has gone through. Plus, while Matz has pitched fine recently, he had troubles earlier in the year and his peripherals overall paint a much different picture.
While his 3.31 ERA looks swell, Matz checks in with a 5.04 FIP. He has an elevated strand rate, an elevated HR rate and just a .244 BABIP, all contributing to the difference between his ERA and the estimator. The HR rate is especially troublesome, as Matz has turned in a career-best 52.5 GB%. It’s hard to believe that a guy that induces that many grounders has surrendered 11 HR in 65.1 IP but that’s where we are.
The good news is that in his last five games, covering 28.2 IP, Matz has given up just two homers.
Still, his ERA is far-outstripping the estimators. Over those last five outings, Matz has a 1.88 ERA but a 3.99 FIP and a 4.38 xFIP. This isn’t a huge surprise as he’s stranding nearly every runner that gets on base with a 90.1 LOB%. But the one thing we haven’t talked about that factors into the estimators is his K/BB ratio.
For the season, Matz has a 2.04 K/BB ratio and even during his recent span of good pitching, that mark is just 1.8, with 12 BB and 21 Ks. The average rate of all NL pitchers this year is 2.54 and it’s 2.61 for starting pitchers. For a comparison, deGrom has a 4.91 K/BB rate. There are 56 pitchers who’ve amassed at least 60 IP in the NL so far this year. Matz’ 2.04 K/BB ratio ranks 45th.
We’re all infatuated with the idea of a pitcher who keeps his pitch count low by eliminating walks and getting batters to swing early in the count to get outs on weak contact rather than strikeouts. But it’s really hard to succeed that way over an entire season rather than a subsection of five starts. Matz doesn’t have an elite strikeout rate and he’s not compensating with a super-low walk rate, either.
Among qualified pitchers last year in the NL, only Gio Gonzalez and Lance Lynn were able to succeed with a sub-par K/BB rate. Gonzalez had a 2.38 K/BB rate and a 2.96 ERA and Lynn had marks of 1.96 and 3.43, respectively. Much more common would be results like Julio Teheran, who had a 2.10 K/BB rate and a 4.49 ERA.
The beauty of the estimators is that they do a fabulous job of stripping away good fortune and give you a better sense of how the pitcher has performed in a small sample than ERA does. Additionally, if you compare ERA and FIP in one year, you’ll typically see that a pitcher will have an ERA in the following season in the direction of his FIP. So, if a pitcher in Year A has an ERA of 3.43 and a FIP of 4.82, we’ll expect his ERA in Year B to go up. Those were the 2017 numbers for Lynn, who so far in 2018 has a 4.98 ERA.
Right now, Matz is pitching well and all Mets fans should be happy with that. Beggars can’t be choosers and the team is in desperate need right now for someone besides deGrom to provide good outings on a consistent basis. But you can be grateful for the results and leery for the prospects of receiving similar production going forward based on data rather than gut feelings.
Matz has the stuff to succeed in the majors. But it sure would be nice to see more strikeouts and fewer walks to go along with that terrific GB%. We’ve seen him curb the homers that were plaguing him earlier in the season. Now we need to see the same thing with his walk rate. Prior to this season, Matz has done an excellent job in limiting free passes. He entered the 2018 season with a 2.3 BB/9. But for whatever reason, his walk rate has spiked to a 3.9 rate this year.
There’s a school of thought that once a player displays a skill, it’s not unreasonable to expect him to do it again. In 234.2 IP in the majors, Matz displayed the ability to post a strong walk rate. There’s a reason to think he can do that again. In varying times in his brief MLB career, Matz has done certain things very well. When he can do those things consistently at the same time, he’ll be an elite pitcher.
In his last five games he’s had terrific results. But those have been the product of good fortune more than good pitching. Still, Matz has the ability to post good results thanks to good pitching. We’ve seen him in the past with a K/BB rate over 4 and a HR/9 rate under 1. Can he build on his efforts the last five games and continue to make improvements in his game?
The Mets sure hope so.