It was a good news/bad news type of year for Steven Matz in 2018. The good news is that he was healthy and made a career-high 30 starts. The bad news is that after enjoying good fortune in the first half of the season, Matz didn’t have quite the same luck after the break and finished with a 3.97 ERA and a 4.62 FIP. To be clear, those are good numbers for a fourth starter. But the Mets have always considered Matz to have the potential to be more of a top of the rotation guy if he could stay away from injuries. And that’s not what we witnessed in 2018.
Without a doubt, the biggest issue for Matz last season was the gopher ball. He allowed 25 HR in 154 IP for a 1.5 HR/9. But not only was it the volume of homers, it was when he surrendered them. Traditionally, about 60% of the homers hit are solo shots. But 48% of the ones Matz served up last year came with men on base. And only a late “surge,” where four of the last five homers he gave up were solo shots, made it that close to normal. Of his first 20 HR, 55% of them came with runners on base.
After a brief DL stint in early August, Matz pitched well down the stretch. In his final nine games, he limited batters to a .186 AVG and posted a 3.11 ERA. You’d think with batters struggling to reach base, his ERA would have been better. But he allowed 8 HR in 46.1 IP.
It feels like Matz is one step away from being an elite pitcher. But let’s not pretend that it’s a baby step. Let’s see what the computer models forecast for Matz in 2019.
ATC —- 8-9, 4.03 ERA, 151 IP, 51 BB, 144 Ks, 22 HR
Marcel – 6-10, 4.19 ERA, 144 IP, 49 BB, 137 Ks, 21 HR
Steamer – 10-10, 4.03 ERA, 162 IP, 54 BB, 155 Ks, 20 HR
THE BAT – No Record, 4.04 ERA, 162 IP, 59 BB, 147 Ks, 22 HR
ZiPS — 7-7, 4.07 ERA, 132.2 IP, 48 BB, 126 Ks, 19 HR
All of these systems see essentially what Matz did in 2018 happening again this season. ZiPS is slightly bearish on his innings, otherwise the other four models all see him within 10 innings of last year’s 154 total. Marcel is slightly bearish on his ERA, otherwise the other four models all see him within .10 points of last year’s 3.97 ERA. Interestingly, the models have him accomplishing the same numbers despite forecasting fewer home runs allowed. Steamer projects eight more innings, five fewer homers but with an ERA .06 runs higher.
Here is my completely biased forecast for Matz:
7-5, 3.40 ERA, 110 IP, 40 BB, 108 Ks, 12 HR
My expectation is that Matz will take a step forward with his gopher ball issues and that on a rate basis, we’ll see a noticeable improvement in his ERA because of that. But while he takes a step forward with his production, he’ll take a step backwards in the health department. Hopefully, 2018 will be the first in a string of 30 or more starts seasons from Matz. But let’s face it, you wouldn’t want to wager on that happening.
You’ll have more credibility in the future if you chime in now with what you think Matz will do this year. Next week, Robinson Cano goes under the forecast microscope.