While the Mets pitching staff has many impressive characteristics, 2016 aimed a spotlight on one of their less desirable traits. 135 runners successfully stole a base off the Mets last season, and while many people think bases are stolen on catchers, that is rarely the case.
Bases are usually stolen on pitchers who are either slow to home plate, meaning they take a long time to deliver the pitch, or they have sub-par pickoff moves so runners can take larger leads safely.
Noah Syndergaard has taken steps to improve his control of the running game after allowing a whopping 48 steals last season. As he is right-handed and therefore faces away from first base from the stretch, his options are limited to learning a slide-step or just generally decreasing his time to the plate.
As a lefty, though, Steven Matz has the opportunity to drastically decrease opponent’s running games after allowing 20 stolen bases last season.
Because he is left-handed, he has a clear advantage if he can learn a good pickoff move to keep runners honest. While Jon Lester has shown that there are other ways to control the running game without actually throwing the ball to first base, having a good pickoff move can not only prevent runners from stealing, but actually remove them from the bases altogether.
That was seen in yesterday’s game against the Cardinals as Matz picked Tommy Pham off first base.
“That felt really good,” Matz told reporters regarding the pickoff. “I actually wasn’t reading there and just saw he was getting a big secondary, kind of timing me up. I knew I was going over to first. It was good.”
The best left handed pick-off moves convince the runner at first the pitcher is going home long enough that he begins to take his secondary lead. If he takes a step or even a hop towards second base before they throw over, he’s toast. When a runner is stealing against a left-handed pitcher, they often go on first movement, meaning the second the pitcher picks up their leg, they’re off to the races. If the pitcher sees this, he can step towards first and hopefully the first baseman can get the ball to second quick enough to catch the prospective thief.
“I think it’s just repetition,” Matz continued. “The more you feel comfortable with it, the more confident you are. Guys will start running on me. The more repetition I get, the easier it will be and it will be part of my repertoire.”
Matz was effective last season, as was Syndergaard, however they can both be better with an improved command of the running game. So far this spring, Matz has gone 1-1 with a 1.04 ERA and six strikeouts in 8.2 innings.