The Mets’ offense has failed to support its starting pitchers on numerous occasions throughout the first third of the 2018 season.
While particularly dominant yet criminally unprotected starts have frequently befallen Jacob deGrom in his early bid for his first Cy Young award, the woes have manifested themselves across the entire rotation.
Excluding deGrom’s one-inning, 45-pitch outlier in Philadelphia, Mets’ starters have averaged just under 5.1 innings per game in a 12-22 slide dating back to April 26. In that same crippling time frame, Met hitters have batted in just 61 runners through their first five innings — a mark 28th in the majors. Average these disappointing values out and you’ll find that the team is effectively giving each starter 1.8 runs to work with every game.
Over this stretch, Steven Matz has also taken his share of lumps neither he nor we fans can control. In his past five starts, Matz has been given just 10 total runs by his lineup (good for a similarly weak average of two supporting runs per game), despite pitching to a stellar 2.32 ERA. Narrow matters down to the last three starts he’s made, and the numbers shine even brighter: 1.13 ERA, 1.063 WHIP, 64 percent strikes thrown, and a strand rate of 89.5 percent.
Most impressive, however, has got to be Matz’s newfound ability to efficiently battle through innings. He entered the sixth inning of Sunday’s contest against the Cubs at just 63 pitches, and before exiting his next most recent start in Atlanta with an injured finger, had navigated three frames with 42 pitches.
Of course, to compare Matz’s recent success to what has been a yearlong master class of unrewarded ace pitching from deGrom, even if his loss to the Cubs felt equally frustrating in its unjustness, is a bit over the top. I want to make it very clear that the objective is not to put him on that pedestal.
Nonetheless, Matz, through two healthy months, is looking at some reasonably impressive numbers. Some values include a 3.42 ERA, 8.3 K/9, and a 1.27 WHIP.
With his emerging value as a clutch arm, the lefty has clearly brought a more bullish mindset into his business this time around. Throw in both a refined sinker and more discrete and slyly used changeup, and it becomes clear why Matz has earned the praises of his coaches as a viable third starter:
“He’s been tremendous,” said Mickey Callaway in Sunday’s post-game press conference. “He’s attacking the hitters. Great changeup. Better breaking ball probably than I’ve ever seen… [and] you can still see him thinking, ‘Oh, I gotta do my routine. Once that becomes second nature for him, then he’s going to get more and more comfortable and he’s going to be able to pitch better and better.”
Whereas Matz only made 13 starts in 2017 and got smashed to the tune of a 6.05 ERA, .301 average, and .504 slugging percentage, he has already taken the hill in 10 games, while holding opponents to values 82 and 84 points lower, respectively, in 2018.
The third time through the order, Matz has worked to bring down these same numbers down from .318 and .516 to .176 and .353, respectively. Per FanGraphs,he has yet to allow an earned run in a high leverage situation this year.
Matz still has his share of issues with giving out walks, as his pedestrian 3.7 BB/9 can attest, and it may well be that he runs into a rough patch as the season presses forward and his limits are tested.
However, given fan expectations at the beginning of the year those of a combustible, injury-prone pitcher liable to a demotion, Matz has been one of the more welcome surprises in this year’s starting rotation. Having a confident, reliable third starter behind deGrom and Noah Syndergaard would be a huge boon going forward, as Matz’s last few starts have demonstrated.