Steven Matz: Not an NL East Floor-Mat Anymore
With rumored changes of higher velocity and a better curve, has Steven Matz improved his skillset, and by extension his fantasy value?
I’m a Mets fan and, like most of you, spent my Saturday watching my team relishing the first weekend with baseball in nearly 14 months. As you also probably know, the Mets have had some tough luck with pitching injuries as Noah Syndergaard is out with Tommy John and Marcus Stroman tore his calf. Therefore, I was watching Steven Matz toe the rubber. was tossing the ball against the Braves in the second game of the season. In this game he had the following line: 6 innings, 7 strikeouts, 1 earned run, 2 hits, and 1 walk. Aside from the homer, a very nice start. I had heard that his velocity was up, but you never know what to trust from spring training buzz so I was pleasantly surprised to see him sitting at 95 and routinely hitting 96. On top of this, he had a new faster, tighter curveball. But before I discuss the specifics of his increased velo and his tighter curve, let’s talk about his pitch mix, specifically how it relates to last year.
In 2019, he threw: sinker (50.6%), changeup (20.1%), curveball (14.8%), and slider (14.5%). With this pitch mix last year, he had a 28.4% Called Strikes + Whiffs (CSW) for the whole season. Of particular note is that he threw his sinker at an average velocity of 93.3 mph.
In this game, he had a 29% CSW- a touch higher than his CSW last year (and granted, it’s 1 game). Nevertheless, I’d like to break this down more into the CSW of particular pitches, and when I do, you can see a change in effectiveness. His sinker was 25% (28.2% in 2019), his curve was 40% (33.4% in 2019), and his changeup was 33.3% (30.1%).
Now, let me lay out the velocity before elaborating on what these stats mean. He only pitched the slider once and the changeup hasn’t changed at all from last year (throws it about 84 mph) so I won’t go into these. The velocity of the sinker in this game averaged at 94.9 and maxed out at 96.2. The curve in this game was about the same as last year. In this game, the average speed of the curve was 77.8 and it topped out at 79.9 (in 2019 it averaged 78.5).
Lastly, his pitch mix was a bit different than it was last year. Out of 93 pitches, he threw the sinker 60.2%, the curve 16.1%, the change-up 21.6%, and one slider. He leaned noticeably more on his sinker, with some increased usage of his curve and changeup. It’s odd that he only threw one slider, but that’s likely because he didn’t need it.
The fact that the CSW for his sinker decreased is likely attributable to the fact that he played a good team in the Braves and an increase in usage of the pitch. However, the overall CSW was up because the curveball was much more effective in getting strikes than it had been last year. Of course, the changeup got more strikes too but not nearly as many as the curve (3% increase vs 7% increase). This is huge because, if the curve can be a legitimate out pitch like this, it could do wonders for him since he really did need to get himself an out pitch.
The velocity of the sinker seems to not have been effective in helping improve the pitch as it did not induce more strikes and had a fairly high average Exit Velocity (EV) of 94. But, it is important to note that he only allowed 6 balls in play so the EV would have a very small sample size. I am still hopeful for it because the last time he was throwing this fast was in 2015 (his rookie year) when he had a .281 xWOBA on it and a 2.27 ERA in 35.2 innings.
Now, of course, this is all one game’s worth of data, so this could be noise. But if this the first data points of a demonstrable change in his pitch mix and its effectiveness, this is information to help you get in early on him. There are ostensibly some real changes that he has made and the new curve was much better at inducing strikes. I’m not ready to say he’ll be 2015 Matz, but I am saying that he’s worth watching. The velocity is real and it will only help. The sinker should provide better results and should help his secondaries. The curve, however, seems like it will lead to an increase in strikeouts. If he drops his sinker usage next game closer to 50% and raises his curve to something around 20%, I’ll definitely be in on him. I’d also like to see the slider some more because it showed some intriguing improvement at the end of 2019. However, I’ll be keeping an eye on those EVs because that could mean some home runs issues if they stay high.
If you’re looking for a streamer, he’s definitely a good candidate. And if you’re in a dynasty league, I would send an offer to buy him. I know that I will definitely keep an eye on him because he really looked like he could be getting back to his 2015 self.