Digging for Diamonds: Steven Matz
For any pitcher to succeed at the big league level they need to be adept at getting batters out and minimizing the damage of those that get on base. This seems simple enough but getting batters out at the major league level is really hard. It helps the pitcher immensely if he can induce easy outs and keep his mistakes to a minimum.
Three of the most useful skills for a pitcher to have in order to accomplish these things are not walking batters, being able to strike people out, and being able to induce ground balls. New York Mets prospect Steven Matz he has proven adept at all three of these skills yet continues to fly under the radar in most leagues. It is about time people heard about Matz and started putting him on their rosters.
Matz was taken in the second round of the 2009 draft by the Mets straight out of high school. As with most prep prospects Matz was raw but the 6’2” lefty had the tools to be a star. Unfortunately for Matz his career didn’t even get started in the minors before he had to go under the knife. On May 18th 2010 he underwent Tommy John surgery sidelining him for the entire year. He wouldn’t appear in a single minor league game until 2012.
Proving well worth the wait Matz closed out rookie ball in 2012 with 29 innings of stellar baseball posting a 1.55 ERA proving that his stuff was far too good for the level. The following season in 2013 he advanced to A-ball making 21 starts and posting another exceptional mark of 2.62 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. It appeared as if he was on his way back to relevancy when he broke again, this time it was his patella tendon.
When you suffer two injuries one to the elbow and one to the knee you start to get a label of being injury prone. Fair or not Matz was saddled with that reputation causing him to fall completely off of anyone’s radar until he re-appeared last year pitching 140.1 innings dominating competition at high-A and AA posting even more impressive stats against more advanced competition. Matz had my attention and at this point and he should have yours as well.
Despite the impressive stats and respectable innings totals put up by Matz last year there are still many detractors out there. Despite being ranked 33rd by Baseball Prospectus they thought there were 16 pitchers in the minors with better abilities. Fangraphs thought there were 30 pitchers with better skills and Keith Law didn’t even include him in his top 100. This is the same guy with career marks in the minors of 276 IP, 2.32 ERA, and a 1.17 WHIP.
In my recently released Top 100 Dynasty Prospects list found in the Baseball Professor Draft Guide I had Matz as the sixth best pitching prospect in fantasy. Of course I am no scout so I can’t pretend to see what people like Keith Law are able to but from a numbers standpoint I couldn’t find out what was wrong with Matz. I then checked scouting reports on his mechanics and found those reports to be pretty good too saying he had good balance and a clean delivery.
If it wasn’t his results and it wasn’t his mechanics then what was wrong with Matz? The only thing I had yet to tackle was his repertoire. I found that the left-hander has a fastball that can get up to 96 MPH and is generally considered to be a plus pitch. Matz also has a changeup that he has a good feel for and a curveball capable of missing bats. The only negative I could find is that at times his fastball can come in flat and his changeup can be too hard but ultimately all three of his pitches flashed plus attributes.
During last year’s impressive season Matz’s fist 69.1 innings came in the pitcher friendly Florida State League where a healthy skepticism of his 2.21 ERA could be expected. What was unexpected and left no doubt in my mind about Matz’s ability was how he handled the Eastern League after moving up to Binghamton. Matz’s final 71.1 innings were even better as he saw his K-BB rate improve from 14.2% to 19.2% while reducing his WHIP to 1.12 and maintaining his excellent ERA of 2.27. Matz achieved a 53.4% groundball rate across both levels allowing just three total home runs.
If liking Matz as much as I do is wrong then I don’t want to be right and all I know about baseball means nothing. Let’s take one last look at his plus column.
- Over 50% groundball rate-Check!
- ERA well under 2.50-Check!
- WHIP under 1.20-Check!
- Limiting the HR, Only 8 HR in 276 career IP-Check!
- Strikeout rate over a batter per inning during his career-Check!
- Three Plus Pitches-Check!
Okay so aside from the injury history which isn’t all that scary to me the kid has it all. Sure next year will be a big test as he tries his hand in the pitcher graveyard that is the Pacific Coast League but I think he can make it work. All the skills are there and Matz clearly has the mental fortitude and toughness to battle through these injuries while suffering no hiccups in his performance.
The door is also more open for Matz to join the Mets rotation than people think, currently the openly available for trade Jon Niese is the team’s only left-handed starter and fellow top prospect Noah Syndergaard is a righty. Should Niese change teams Matz would provide and in house left-handed option whose already impressive abilities should shine in the pitchers park that is Citi Field.
The bottom line is that Matz has never failed, never had a cohesive injury history, and has the skills to be an excellent starter—in my option a very good number two pitcher. Perhaps the injuries do prove to be an issue and perhaps his inconsistent command on his off-speed and breaking offerings limit his effectiveness but then again maybe they won’t. Matz’s proximity to the big leagues and skills make him worth owning in all dynasty formats and make him a more attractive option than many big names that are further away in both polish and results.