So it seems the Hot Stove shall sizzle early this year. It is hard to believe that two quality starting pitchers are already off the board, even before Qualifying Offers have to be accepted or declined. With Rodriguez and Syndergaard signing bigger than expected contracts early, it seems teams are going to make large offers to big names like Scherzer, Kershaw, Verlander, Gausman, Ray, Rodon and Stroman before the CBA expires on the first of December. I do, however, wonder when the next tier of arms will look to find a team. Heaney started off these early signings when he inked with the Dodgers last week. I would not be shocked if other mid to low tier arms look to secure contracts with the upcoming uncertainty. One mid-tier pitcher I would like to see the Yankee’s grab before it is too late is lefty, Steven Matz.
To say that Steven Matz has had his fair share of ups and downs throughout his career would be an understatement. He showed real promise in his first 28 starts across his first two seasons in 2015 and 2016 (mostly 2016), pitching a combined 168 innings with a 3.16 ERA, 3.44 FIP to go with 163 strikeouts and only 41 walks. However, even those two good years came with some downs as he had injuries sprinkled throughout both seasons. Still not bad for a 25 year old kid who grew up only fifty miles away from Citi Field in Long Island. Then in 2017 the injury bug hit once again, this time leading to struggles when he was able to take the hill (6.08 ERA / 5.05 FIP across 66.2ip). In 2018 he found some (yet not all) of that early success and carried it in into 2019 making a combined 60 starts (plus two relief appearances) with a 4.09 ERA and a 4.61 FIP to go with a solid (if unspectacular) 305 strike outs and 110 walks in 314.1 innings. Things took another turn for the worse in a pandemic shortened 2020 season. He posted a 9.00 ERA while going 0-4 in his first 4 starts before being placed on the IL with a shoulder issue. When he came back he was even worse finishing the disaster of a season off with a final 9.68 ERA and a 7.76 FIP. Jeez!
Matz desperately needed another turnaround in 2021, especially since he was entering his final season of arbitration before reaching free agency this winter. While again, not returning back to his dominant 2015-2016 self he posted a respectable 3.82 ERA to go with a 3.79 FIP, 144 strike outs and 43 walks in 150.2 innings over 29 starts. There were ups and downs throughout this season as well but definitely more ups than downs. I think there is even more potential left in the tank as well.
Matz uses a four pitch mix consisting of a sinker, changeup, curveball and slider. His sinker has below average break and above average velocity. He throws it more than 50% of the time despite it continually getting worse results than the rest of his pitches. One of the reasons his sinker could be getting hit so hard is because he locates it like a pitcher would want to locate a four seam fastball, up in the zone. This is not typically a good location to throw a sinker.
Take a look at these three heat maps. The first is Matz’s sinker, the second is Gerrit Cole’s four seamer and the third is Logan Webb’s sinker. ***
I wanted to compare Matz with these two pitchers, because they are both very successful using their respective fastballs. Cole ramps his four seam up in the zone to get swings and misses, while Webb pounds that sinker low to produce ground balls. You can see that Matz locates his sinker more closely to Cole’s four seamer than Webb’s sinker. If Matz was able to spot that pitch low in the zone while adding a four seam fastball that he threw up in the zone, he might be able to find some extra success. It would lead to more swings and misses up and more ground balls on that sinker low. It would give the hitters an extra pitch to think about and would also help him tunnel his pitches nicely. His sinker and changeup would both start middle-middle to a righty and break down and in towards the batter’s feet, at a ten miles per hour difference in velocity. His slider and curveball would pair nicely with that four seamer thrown up the zone; all three pitches starting at similar points before the curve drops and slider breaks away. If he could make those two pitch changes, he could really take another step forward.
It is not easy to learn a new pitch or completely change the way you throw an existing pitch but pitchers do make changes all the time. The nice thing with Matz is that even if he does not take another step forward he should still be a good value with his current pitch mix. MLB Trade Rumors does a pretty good job at predicting free agent contracts. They have guessed low so far, with Rodriguez, Syndergaard and Heaney all securing more than the website expected, albeit not by too much. They have Matz pegged to get three years and $27MM, so something in the three year $30MM-$35MM could be in order. That contract would only take him through his age 33 season. If the Yankees could grab him for three years at that price tag, sign him tomorrow. He might not be the full solution to the rotation’s need but he would definitely be a great start. Would you like to see him in the rotation? How much would you give him? Let me know in the comments.
I was not able to figure out how to add my screen captures of the heat maps. But if you go to the links and scroll down you can find them here: