Don’t lump Steven Matz in with the expendable pieces in the New York Mets rotation. For the 26-year-old southpaw is a keeper.
One thing was certain: This NY Mets rotation was destined for greatness. Watching one of the five pitch was going to be worth the price of admission. Now, we’re only certain about one thing: There aren’t as many keepers in the rotation as we thought.
Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard levitate as keepers in the spectacles of most Mets fans, while Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler have slipped towards the other end of the spectrum, joining fellow duds like Mike Pelfrey.
But Steven Matz falls somewhere in the middle, and his latest start epitomizes his career as a whole—one full of much potential but recent struggle.
If he can stay healthy, Matz will be essential to the team’s 2018 success. Granted, that’s hard to imagine, as Matz has spent more than five months on the disabled list in his short career.
Matz depicts a different circumstance than any other player on the pitching staff. His manager knows that this is a good player and responded with some emotion when asked how surprising his past six-game stretch has been following Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Well it’s shocking,” Terry Collins remarked to Justin Tasch of the New York Daily News. “This guy has way too good of stuff.”
Over his last six starts, Matz has pitched to an 11.03 ERA and 2.20 WHIP. He’s allowed 29 earned runs and 46 hits over just 23.2 innings of work. That’s a far cry from the 3.16 career ERA he carried into the season. Or the 3.83 career ERA he currently sits with.
He has primarily been a groundball pitcher with his curveball and sinker. Right now, his curve isn’t curving and his sinker isn’t sinking. Opposing batters are hitting a robust .418 with a 1.149 OPS against him during this funk.
But Matz is the only southpaw in the rotation, and the Mets don’t have many other options. According to MLB Pipeline, there are currently four left-handed starters among the team’s top 30 prospects. Only one, P.J. Conlon, is likely to contribute before 2020.
He’s going to have to work out his issues in the majors.
Back to his last start, this past Sunday against the Dodgers.
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Matz caught too much of the plate with all of his pitches in the first three innings. As a result, the Dodgers kept smacking balls back up the middle. Thanks to an overturned call on a stolen base attempt by Justin Turner, the Dodgers put three runs on the board in the first inning.
As Collins noted in his postgame remarks, that call changed everything.
That doesn’t change the fact that Matz wasn’t fooling anyone. He was missing his spots and kept leaving the ball up. That was evident in Turner’s third-inning, opposite-field home run.
This was one side of Matz’s ‘two-faced’ game. His final pitching line—5.1 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 7 K—was all the evidence people needed to insist that his downward spiral was continuing.
But those folks ignore what he did over the final 2.1 innings of his start. Matz retired the final seven batters that he faced. He struck out the side in the fourth inning, using his full arsenal to make Yasiel Puig look foolish.
This was the confident Matz on the mound. The guy who wasn’t afraid to miss outside and then come back in with his four-seamer, as he did to Turner in the fifth inning.
“For as many sinking fastballs as Steven Matz throws, I think that he needs to command the bottom of the strike zone,” Aaron Boone said during ESPN’s broadcast of the game.
Boone then reinforced the notion that Matz’s biggest problem is that he’s missing his spots—not that he’s missing the ability to succeed in the big leagues.
“He has the capability of pitching up in the strike zone, but I think that when you do it too often with two-seam fastballs, eventually guys catch up to it,” Boone said. “If you miss in the middle of the plate, those can turn into not just base hits, but extra-base hits and even home runs.”
Matz is not Harvey. Harvey’s actions and attitude have led fans to question his future. Can he still perform at an elite level? Does he actually want to be here? The answers to both of those queries seem to be in the negative.
He’s not Wheeler, either. Wheeler has lacked any real ability to throw at a high level since his return from Tommy John surgery. One could point to the first month of 2017 when Wheeler appeared to be the Mets’ most consistent starter, but that’s not saying much.
It’s no secret that deGrom has been the team’s best pitcher this season or that Syndergaard is an elite-level arm. Thor won Mets’ fans over with a powerful 2016 campaign and an exceptional performance in the 2016 all-or-nothing Wild Card Game against the San Francisco Giants.
Those two are obvious keepers. Adding Matz to that mix might not be as obvious, but he’s a keeper. The stuff is there. If the Mets are going to contend in 2018 and beyond, they need him to be a part of the core of their rotation.