The Enigmatic Steven Matz

Two of the most interesting things about Mets pitcher Steven Matz have (mostly) nothing to do with his numbers on the field. Like teammate Jacob deGrom, Matz consistently goes about his business in a professional manner that contrasts with the club chaos that often surrounds him. Perhaps more interesting, however, is that he isn’t really a polarizing figure among the fan base despite a history of disappointing performance that belies his former top prospect status and the promise he flashed during the Mets’ 2015 run to the World Series and his 2016 rookie season. The former point likely contributes to the latter, as Matz displays none of the bravado of a Matt Harvey or Noah Syndergaard, though never truly had as high a ceiling as either player.

The title of this piece may not seem quite apt for a player like Matz. Indeed, “enigmatic” is a loaded word generally reserved for players, like the aforementioned Harvey, with outsized personalities as big as their significant talent. Here, though, we use it in the most literal sense. Matz, despite being in the league since 2015, is a difficult pitcher to understand. Perhaps more succinctly, and as Brian Joura wrote in his projection article in February, Matz is a riddle.

The two main knocks on Matz over his career have been his inability to stay on the field and his inconsistency when he does take the mound. At this point in his career, and after two straight seasons of 30 starts, it appears as though his health issues are mostly behind him (knock on wood). That just leaves his performance, which has ultimately not been up to the standards he set for himself from 2015-2016.

Matz’s 105 ERA- and 105 FIP- from 2016-2019 are both right around average, and place him around 100th of the 140 starting pitchers that qualified during the selected time frame. His xFIP- of 95 and SIERA of 4.15 are also about average, though that SIERA value is right on the cusp of below average. Those xFIP- and SIERA values place him around 50th of those 140 players, a much more palatable place for sure. It should be noted that these values are certainly buoyed a bit by his 2016 season, and the 2018-2019 version of Matz is very likely his true talent level.

These statistics attempt to isolate the true talent level and performance of a pitcher, and what they tell us about Matz is what we’ve seen over the last 4 years: he’s an inconsistent and average pitcher that mixes in stellar stretches with awful ones.

That inconsistency can be maddening for a team looking to solidify their front five and give themselves the best possible chance to win. It’s why we continuously see Matz having to fight for his rotation spot, most recently because of the offseason additions of Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha. It’s also why the team briefly moved him to the bullpen last season after a disastrous June.

We shouldn’t forget that there’s immense value in what Matz brings to the table, though. He’s a number three at his best, a number five at his worst, and roughly a solid number four the rest of the time. That’s particularly valuable for a team that just lost their number three starter and will likely lose his replacement whether or not the 2020 season actually occurs. Talk of trading Matz, who doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2021 season, seems problematic for a team with little pitching prospect talent ready to step in right away.

Technically speaking, Matz only has three “full” seasons as a starter. He’s been hampered by injuries, of course, and there remains the adage that southpaw pitchers take a bit longer to develop than their right-handed counterparts. Is it possible that he still has room to grow before he hits free agency? Sure, particularly if Jeremy Hefner can pick up where Phil Regan left off in helping Matz finish 2019 strong. Then again, this may be a riddle that the Mets simply cannot solve.

7 comments for “The Enigmatic Steven Matz

  1. JImO
    April 25, 2020 at 7:12 pm

    I like Matz. I think sometimes that he got frustrated by not making a good pitch and giving up some runs that he felt he shouldn’t have. But I think there was less of that as the season progressed last year.

    And its great to have a lefty starter.

    • Mike W
      April 26, 2020 at 7:24 am

      I think the Mets are in big trouble with their rotation. After next season, we could be left with deGrom and a bunch of spare parts.

  2. TexasGusCC
    April 26, 2020 at 12:22 am

    Matz seems to have the arm, but I don’t think he’s learned to have the head. He doesn’t show mental toughness. Example #1: The Cubs have first and third and two outs. The runner off first breaks early as if to steal second. Meanwhile, the runner on third has a walking lead as this happens. Matz reacts to the trail runner breaking by not recognizing the play and throwing to first. As soon as the ball leaves Matz’s hand, the runner on third running breaks for home and steals it easily. Example #2: Matz has thrown 6 innings of fantastic baseball. But, being the third time through the lineup, Callaway takes him out after just 77 pitches. All the other pitchers in the Mets rotation would have a cow. They would show some kind of disappointment. Matz didn’t. When asked after the game, he said he had “no problem” with the manager’s decision. I’m sorry, but don’t you have pride in your work?

    • Chris F
      April 26, 2020 at 1:05 pm

      Agreed. Hes a complete head case.

  3. April 26, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    In some way, the worst thing that happened to Matz was coming up in 2015 and pitching so well. The expectations since then have been outsized. He’s been essentially a league-average starter the past two years, which doesn’t sound like much until you don’t have one and need to get one.

    • TexasGusCC
      April 26, 2020 at 1:56 pm

      Brian, you’re right that a league average starter isn’t a bad thing. But, Matz was very highly touted and even threw an almost no hitter in the AA playoff game. Starting off strong buys you extra opportunities that starting slow does not. Just ask Lugo who got torched in his start against the cheating Astros and has been labeled as losing stamina ever since.

      It’s just that Matz hasn’t really improved on anything in five years. They have spent three of those years trying to get him to learn breathing and relaxing on the mound. This year he severely lessened his fastball for sliders and changeups, and the only logical reasons are that he doesn’t have enough movement and he can’t spot it effectively. Well, that takes alot of practice and that’s what effective off-seasons are for.

  4. David Klein
    April 26, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    All the injuries knocked some of the upside out of him he’s a fine #4 starter

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