Leave it to the Mets to take a seemingly obvious decision and make it in the most excruciatingly inept way with what appears to be an almost embarrassing lack of forethought. After days of refusing to commit to Steven Matz‘s next start and flirting with the idea of moving Seth Lugo into the rotation, the Mets appeared to announce their decision by keeping Lugo out of Wednesday’s win over the Marlin’s that the unexpectedly Lugo-less bullpen almost blew. Luis Rojas officially announced that Lugo would start in place of Matz the next day, with the added surprise that Lugo’s stay in the rotation would be more than simply a spot start.

To be completely fair, moving your most consistent and arguably best reliever into a role where he will almost certainly go from “borderline elite” to “mostly average” will have ripple effects on the entire pitching staff. The team has no idea what to expect from Lugo as a starter and even less insight into how Matz will perform as a reliever, and this lack of confidence was apparent in their indecisiveness. It’s possible that the move may strengthen a rotation ravaged by injuries while only slightly degrading a bullpen that still has some big names, but the team also runs the risk of both Matz and Lugo imploding in their swapped roles. In such a short season, and with a current record of 12-14, this would have a devastating effect on their postseason chances.

Of course, we can’t undersell just how much of a boon even an average performance from Lugo would be in the rotation considering its current state. It’s a near certainty that Lugo is less valuable as a starter than he has been as a reliever in a vacuum, but in the context of the Mets’ current situation the trade off may be worth it to bolster a rotation hurting for effective bodies. The problem with the Mets’ thinking here, however, is that it’s incredibly shortsighted.

The Mets’ rotation hasn’t performed as hoped, though it was certainly knocked down a few notches in quality with the loss of both Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman. Even so, the overall team results don’t quite match the individual, isolated performances of most of the staff. The table below includes a few key stats for all of the Mets’ starting pitchers so far this season.

Name IP HR/9 WHIP BABIP ERA- FIP- xFIP-
Jacob deGrom 28.0 0.64 0.89 .269 45 49 60
Steven Matz 23.0 3.52 1.57 .318 211 159 97
Corey Oswalt 4.1 0.00 1.15 .385 97 46 85
Robert Gsellman 3.2 2.45 2.45 .400 230 182 160
Walker Lockett 6.0 1.50 1.5 .333 176 117 125
Michael Wacha 14.0 1.93 1.64 .395 151 106 98
David Peterson 21.2 0.83 1.15 .250 68 92 110
Rick Porcello 25.0 0.72 1.64 .402 135 74 95

The numbers above generally paint an ugly picture, but if we look a bit closer we can see two of the main culprits for the rotation’s underwhelming performance so far this season (beyond the injuries): bad luck and suspect defense. The former can mostly be attributed to small sample sizes, but the latter is something the team was well aware of heading into the season. If we look at the differences between ERA- and FIP- for everybody but Jacob deGrom (class of his own) and David Peterson (possible blip), we see that their fielding independent performances have actually run the gamut from about average to quite good. Combine these independent performances with sky-high BABIP for pitchers like Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello, which are much higher than their career averages, and we begin to see why health isn’t the only poor luck that Mets starters have faced this season.

This is all mostly true for Matz as well, but the difference for him is that his ERA- and FIP- are so blindingly bad that better luck and/or defense wouldn’t be much of a boost. Matz’s main issue this year has been a HR/9 that is abnormally high (3.52) at more than double his career average (1.43). This is made even more evident by his 97 xFIP-, which normalizes home runs based on fly balls rather than raw home run totals. Interestingly, his fly ball rate this season is only slightly elevated, while his HR/FB rate has almost doubled. This sort of screams “juiced ball,” though it’s unclear why the ball didn’t affect him last season if that is indeed a contributing factor this year.

All this is to say that moving Matz to the bullpen won’t fix whatever issue is causing his astronomical home run rate, and putting him there would seemingly only exacerbate the situation should he find himself thrust into high-leverage situations. The better course of action here was likely working to fix Matz rather than upending the bullpen, but the Mets tend to take the harder road for reasons unknown.

The question that remains to be answered is whether the downgrade in the bullpen is ultimately worth the potential upgrade Lugo may provide to the rotation. On the bright side, Lugo will finally get the shot in the rotation that he’s been pining for over the last few seasons. Perhaps he’s learned enough in relief to translate his success there into a starting role, or maybe this will be his final shot at a career as a starter. Either way, the Mets have decided that we’ll all get to see soon enough. Of course, this all may be moot now that the team’s games are currently suspended due to positive COVID-19 tests. Poor Lugo just can’t seem to catch a break.

8 comments on “Steven Matz’s move to the bullpen won’t stop the homers

  • NYM6986

    If this were a normal year and not a 60 game season Matz could have been replaced by someone actively pitching in the minors or by a pitcher picked up in a trade. But this year is a sprint and moving Lugo up is our best bet given our sudden hole in the starting staff. Matz as a fourth or fifth starter was more acceptable than a number 2. Is it all on Matz or would a great pitching coach make a difference. How would you rate the job Hefner has done or is it just to early? As long as we keep scoring runs we can keep moving forward.

  • Mike W

    Matz is the best home run derby pitcher in MLB. No other real move for him except to the pen or in any other year, maybe some time at AAA.

    Lugo wants to be a starter. He deserves the chance. No better time to find out what he has than this season. If it works out, it is good for next year. Because our quality and lack of pitching depth will probably be our top concern.

  • Metsense

    Matz appears to have lost his confidence, has given up too many homeruns and has a high WHIP. He has given up 5, 8 and 6 runs in his last three starts. In that same time frame the bullpen has solidified. Lugo should provide better starting pitching than Matz. At the start of 2021, only deGrom and Peterson are reliable as starters. Filling out a good rotation will be expensive . If Lugo can become a 3-4 starter then the Mets could save some money and combine the savings with Porcello’s $10M and upgrade the 2021 rotation.
    As for Matz, he should work on his game in low pressure situations gradually working his way to a chance at a start. Let’s face in, there will be opportunities with the impending doubleheaders.

  • Jennifer Corozza

    I was listening to Evan on the WFAN on Friday and today, and he’s totally against Lugo being in rotation this year (no prob with 2021) because of bullpen need and not enough time for Lugo to stretch out. I completely disagree with this, in part, because I don’t take this 60-game season as seriously as some do, I think Lugo is meant to be a starter (starter’s arsenal), and is just stuck in bullpen due to circumstances (e.g. 2019 Diaz), and a good bullpen means zip if your starting rotation is as weak as the this one is right now. I hope the Mets don’t reverse course due to COVID situation as I believe that would be a bad look treating Lugo like the human yo-yo. Also, Matz shouldn’t be toyed with either. Matz will probably start a DH or 2 just due to him being a stretched out pitcher and no one else to go to there. We’ll see. Hope they can play by latest Wed?

    • Chris F

      Matz is a total head case. He’s got two problems: no capacity to manage tight situations without melting (mental) and an arsenal of 2 pitches that are super predictable (fastball up, curveball middle and down). Send him to the pen and like the article says, it won’t fix it.

  • Edwin e Pena

    Matz is Mr Disappointment, one good start followed by two bad ones. Gopher balls all the time. Hope he can straighten himself out in the BP, maybe that is where his future is. If not, he may be trade bait at the deadline.

  • TJ

    Inserting Lugo into the starting rotation in place of Matz, at this point, is a no brainer, notwithstanding, as Jennifer mentioned abover, the likelihood that Matz will wind up getting starts anyway due to the COVID makeup scheduled DH. Anyhow, I don’t get all the concern about the pen hinging on Lugo, since the starters not named deGrom that the Mets have to throw out there will most certainly reduce the save opportunities.

    Lugo is no given as a starter, and every opponent to his starting seems to want to ignore the two losses he already has in nine appearances from the pen. Anyhow, there’s a high probability he’ll be more competitive than Matz as a starter regardless, so that makes it the best move for 2020. Additionally, as he is stretched out, he’ll almost certainly wind up pitching more innings overall than he would have out of the pen, as well as giving the Mets a look at how he performs second and hopefully third time through the order. This will be extremely valuable for 2021, as the Mets’ rotation is in flux and they control Lugo through 2022.

    For Matz, he’ll need to be a long man and/or spot starter. As Chris said, he has two main issues, and at his age improving on his issues are less likely. It’s hard to be a starter with only two pitches, and especially if command is lacking…his fastball has more life but from my TV sampling he rarely hits the target. His motion also seems different on offspeed pitches. That combo makes it easy for MLB hitters to rake, the results show it, and the bottom line is that his performance and ability to navigate through games isn’t trustworthy.

    The bottom line to me, still, is that baseball is still about getting the best pitchers to throw the most innings. 180 innings of a “decent” Lugo at starter is most certainly worth more than 80 “high quality” end of game innings out of the pen. But, it does depend on how the definition of “decent” starting.

  • Jennifer Corozza

    Excellent point on reduced save opportunities for Lugo due to weaker rotation. Not even save opportunities, but high leverage chances in general. I don’t know when the Mets started discussing bringing Lugo back to rotation, but the lack of high-leverage with a weak rotation had to be a main talking point. Lugo cannot play the role of deGrom’s finisher as I like to call it. Might as well be in rotation if that’s his role. That’s a luxury, so listening to so many Mets fans/media including booth get riled over not going to Lugo in deGrom’s start on Wed just seemed so ridiculous to me. Granted, I watched the game after it was over, so had seen the box score, and figured out that Lugo was moving to rotation based off of that.

    Essentially, if you’re one pitcher from your bullpen falling apart, you’re not a good enough team anyway. The Mets BP without Lugo will be probably okay, which is a lot better than some bullpens (See last night’s Phillies game with old pal Wheeler getting deGrom’d). The rotation needs help, you can’t have 3-4 starters giving up 5 spots on the regular and have it matter that Lugo is in your BP. It’s not sustainable.

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