Once the New York Mets’ best pitching prospect, injuries and inconsistency have plagued Steven Matz’s career. What can we expect from him at this point?
Sometime during the 1996 season, I stepped foot inside Shea Stadium for the first time. Only four years old, I was mesmerized. I distinctly remember repeatedly tugging on my Dad’s shirt and asking him why the seats were all different colors (my young mind couldn’t process the difference between field level, loge, mezzanine, and the upper deck). From that moment on, my allegiance forever belonged to the New York Mets.
That first game would kick off a streak of attending at least one game every season for 20 consecutive years. Then, in 2017, it ended. Due to circumstances out of my control, I could not make my way to Citi Field last season. You can imagine how fired up I was to watch my 2-0 Mets go for the sweep against the St. Louis Cardinals in person on Sunday.
Well, excitement quickly turned to disdain, as the Mets fell victim to a series of long balls and timely hitting. Paul DeJong homered twice, Marcell Ozuna picked up two RBI on a third-inning double and fifth-inning single and our old friend, Yadier Molina, burned us with a deep fly as well.
The Mets were only able to scratch out one run off the bat of Amed Rosario, who singled home Kevin Plawecki in the second. It was a tough one to swallow and after the score got to 5-1, I bolted to the nearest concession stand for an order of Nathan’s french fries to soothe my pain.
So what went wrong? The bats certainly weren’t alive after posting 15 runs in the first two games. But the real issue here centers around Steven Matz. Over four innings, Matz surrendered three earned runs on four hits.
Despite striking out four batters, he struggled with his control, walking three and inflating his pitch count early (finished with 89 total and 53 strikes). Two of the home runs surrendered in the game came off of Matz. The left-hander took the loss on Sunday and will have to stomach the sight of a 6.75 ERA for the first week of the season.
Mickey Callaway says he doesn't believe Steven Matz had the "confidence" in his pitches to throw balls in the strike zone. #Mets
— Rich MacLeod (@richmacleod) April 1, 2018
The 2018 season marks the fourth year since we first laid eyes on Matz in a Mets uniform. I actually had the privilege of watching him take the mound for the first time when he debuted in June of 2015. Full disclosure, my Dad and I were more there for the postgame concert featuring the Steve Miller Band rather than the lethargic Mets, but how were we supposed to know that this was a World Series team in the making?
Matz was dominant that day, in more ways than one. Seven and two-thirds innings pitched, six strikeouts and his first major league win, not to mention going 3-for-3 at the plate with a double and four RBI. Matz set a franchise record that day, becoming the first Mets player to record four RBI in their debut. That goes for position players too.
Following his first outing, he continued to be stellar in 2015. But thanks to injuries, we only got to see him start five more games before the postseason. All in all, Matz finished 4-0 in 2015, with a 2.27 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 35.2 innings pitched.
Fast forward back to 2018 and Matz still remains an enigma. Over a three year period, a healthy starting pitcher would be expected to make somewhere around 80-90 starts.
Matz made 41 from 2015-17. His ERA has gotten increasingly worse — 2.27 in 2015, 3.40 in 2016, and 6.08 — as well as his WHIP, which ballooned to a career-high 1.53 last season. His inability to stay healthy has been a defining factor of his time in the big leagues, but frankly, Matz isn’t getting better. If anything, he’s getting worse.
Greg Bird = Steven Matz
— Evan Roberts (@EvanRobertsWFAN) March 25, 2018
With the current trajectory his career taking, Matz is starting to look more like a cautionary tale rather than star pitcher. Drafted 72nd overall in the 2009 MLB Draft, the Ward Melville High School alum opted to sign with the Mets, spurning a scholarship from Coastal Carolina University. The Long Island native experienced his first hiccup after feeling elbow discomfort in 2010. Tommy John surgery would prevent Matz from making his professional debut until 2012.
However, from the moment Matz starting climbing the Mets’ minor league ranks, it was evident of the tremendous ceiling he possessed. Wally Backman, who famously played on the ‘86 Mets and won two Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year Awards managing the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate, called Matz the club’s best pitching prospect back in 2015. Given that Noah Syndergaard was the consensus best prospect in the organization and one of the best in the league, to say this was a hot take would be an understatement.
It’s painful because for a while it looked like Matz was going to live up to his potential. 2018 even began looking like a comeback year. After struggling out of the gate this spring, Matz strung together a series of starts that made us all wonder if he had finally put the past behind him and a return to dominance was due.
Sunday’s effort tossed that all out the window, and once again we are left with a cloud of doubt casting shade over the future of this lefty.
What do we expect from Matz going forward?
With uncertainty surrounding Matt Harvey, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, the hope was that Matz would solidify his place in the middle of the team’s rotation. The Mets are fortunate to have two aces on the front end of their rotation which means the middle and backend guys don’t have to put pressure on themselves to perform above their means.
The ship has not sailed on Steven Matz yet, but if he does not find a way to be effective and stay off the disabled list, he very well may be out of a job sooner than you think.