An MMO Fan Shot by Sidd Finch
On July 30, 2004, the Mets committed one of the greatest blunders in their history by trading top left-handed pitching prospect Scott Kazmir to the Rays for the veteran Victor Zambrano. The deal was intended to fill a perceived immediate need, but it didn’t take long to see the effects of the grave error.
Zambrano would end up throwing five awful starts for the Mets that season, before leaving the team and being out of baseball altogether by the next year. That same next year, Kazmir would blossom into one of the best young pitchers in baseball, and eventually lead the Rays to a 2008 World Series appearance. The Mets can’t afford to repeat history.
Going into the 2016 season, the lefty Steven Matz was an undisputed top fifteen prospect in baseball who had just finished pitching on MLB’s biggest stage in the 2015 World Series. However, one bone spur later and it seems as though the New York media, certain bloggers, and even the fans are chomping at the bit to see him shipped out in hypothetical trade scenarios involving any one of their favorite center fielders. Mets fans need a reminder of just how good, and just how valuable, Steven Matz really is. When Matz and his adorable grandfather take the league by storm next season, don’t say you weren’t warned.
In 2016, Matz threw the 3rd hardest sinker of all MLB starting pitchers at an average of 93.6 mph. The only starters to throw harder were right-handers Jake Arrieta (93.8 mph) and Noah Syndergaard (97.8 mph!!!). This also made him by far and away the hardest throwing lefty starter sinker-baller in the major leagues, the second-best coming from the Reds’s Brandon Finnegan who threw a measly 91.8 mph.
Additionally, this makes Matz tied with Carlos Rodon at 93.6 mph for the hardest throwing left-handed starting pitcher in all of baseball (Danny Duffy of the Royals and Robbie Ray being #1 and #2 respectively), and he does it all while throwing a heavy sinker. Matz is of a very rare breed that the Mets are lucky to have.
While velocity is nice, most fans weren’t particularly enchanted with Matz’s 2016. At a very rudimentary glance, it seems as though the kid from Long Island did fairly solid, but wasn’t quite the ace some envisioned him to be. However, Matz’s firepower wasn’t the only thing elite about his 2016 season. It is the purpose of this article to not only defend Matz’s potential, but demonstrate how elite he has been already.
Matz doesn’t just possess velocity, but great control and overall numbers to make him one of the game’s elite pitchers. Among MLB starters with 130+ innings pitched in 2016, Matz ranked 20th overall and 6th for left-handers in BB/9 (Syndergaard was 21) and 17 overall and 7th for left-handers in groundball percentage (Syndergaard was 16th).
His hard hit percentage was also almost identical to Syndergaard’s. Despite these similarities, both pitchers had a stark difference in ERA, with the proverbial god of thunder posting a 2.60 ERA and Matz posting a 3.40 ERA. However, there are good reasons why Matz was almost on par with his bone spur brother in many respects.
First, Matz’s batting average on balls in play was uncharacteristically high at .302, which ranked towards the higher end of the league’s left-handers. Despite producing a very high ground ball rate, and relatively low hard contact rate, Matz was a bit unlucky. Second, after a terrible first start which is widely attributed to a long 11 day rest period between starts, Matz pitched to a 2.96 ERA throughout the rest of the season, despite throwing through immense pain.
In fact, that 2.96 ERA would place 4th in all of baseball for left-handed starters in 2016, behind only the elite company of Clayton Kershaw, Jon Lester, and Madison Bumgarner (he places 9th otherwise, one spot behind Chris Sale). It’s easy to be spoiled with all of the great starting pitching that the Mets see day in and day out, but it would be foolish to ignore the numbers Matz is putting up.
In his first 28 major league starts, he has gone 13-8 with a 3.16 ERA, 8.7 K/9, and a 128 ERA+. Chris Sale, who was just traded for a king’s ransom to the Red Sox, posted a 3.34 ERA, 9.3 K/9, and 120 ERA+ over 32 starts in 2016, after posting a 111 ERA+ in 2015. While I am not suggesting Matz is on the level of Sale, at least not just yet, the comparison of the raw numbers proves that Matz is already on a scary level entering his age 26 season.
If these indicators are any example, and Matz’s highly touted abilities on the mound haven’t disintegrated during the offseason, the Mets and Grandpa Matz are in for an even more exciting season in 2017. I predict that he will dominate the league in a way that could only be rivaled by his fellow stablemates in the Mets rotation. However, if the Mets were to trade Matz in a deal for a center fielder, they would be giving up on one of the top pitchers in the game for no good reason.
Throwing away Matz to fill a spot currently held by a productive Curtis Granderson would do nothing but produce a less complete 2017 team, and give up the remaining five years of control that Matz possesses. He would be replaced with the next man up on the depth chart, which would likely be Robert Gsellman or Seth Lugo if Zack Wheeler is to start the year in the bullpen. At that point, just one injury to one pitcher would force the Mets to start the likes of Rafael Montero or Sean Gilmartin in a year where the Mets are supposed to go for it all once again.
The value of a pitcher like Matz is at an all-time high. Wasting that value on the trade rumor of the week would do nothing but take the team straight back to 2004.
Addressing Matz’s Health Concerns
Many advocates of trading Matz point to his health history as a reason for concern going forward. However, what many fail to realize is that he has actually stayed relatively durable for the past four years. After returning from Tommy John surgery to throw six starts in 2012, he threw TWO full minor league seasons in 2013 and 2014 (21 and 24 starts respectively).
In 2015, Matz appeared in 24 starts across all levels, in addition to his three postseason starts, despite dealing with an oblique issue. In 2016, he threw in 22 starts while dealing with a bone spur that has since been removed.
Despite making 20+ starts in every season over the past four years, he is still unfairly labeled as “injury-prone”. While his past two injuries haven’t been ideal, they don’t present long-term issues, and Matz is primed to go farther than ever next year.
* * * * * * * *
This MMO Fan Shot was written by MMO reader Sidd Finch. Have something you want to say about the Mets? Share your opinions with over 30,000 Met fans who read this site daily.
Send your article to FanShot@MetsmerizedOnline.com. Or ask us about becoming a regular contributor.