While there’s hope the New York Mets’ offense will improve thanks to moves made by general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, this club will ultimately go as far as the pitching staff can carry them.
The bullpen is projected to take a huge leap with closer Edwin Diaz leading the way, but the starting rotation is supposed to be among the league’s best for the second straight year. Most of the attention for this area of the team is focused on the top three starters: Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler. Based off of last year’s production, that’s not a shock. It also leaves southpaw Steven Matz as a bit of an outsider, which may not be the worst thing in the world.
Fresh off career highs for games started (30) and innings pitched (154) in a single season, the ingredients for a breakout performance in 2019 certainly seem to be present with Opening Day now less than a month away.
Parallels to Blake Snell
It hasn’t taken long for catcher Wilson Ramos to make an impression with his new team. He made some recent comments about Matz that caught my eye, specifically comparing him to reigning American League Cy Young winner, Blake Snell. Outside of mentioning the mental hurdles the Mets’ southpaw needs to conquer, Ramos said both Matz and Snell are big lefties that throw hard and have a good curve ball.
That got me wondering as to if there were any similarities in what Matz did in 2018 compared to Snell’s 2017 campaign prior to his award-winning performance last year. Here’s how each of them stack up in those specific instances.
Having similar statistics isn’t going to guarantee a breakout year from Matz just because Snell experienced one. But still, seeing these similarities and having the same catcher that helped the Rays’ southpaw take his game to the next level is definitely encouraging.
A Full Year and Healthy Offseason
The value in having a regular winter also can’t be overlooked, especially since that has seemed to escape Matz more often than not during his young career. We touched upon the importance of this for Michael Conforto heading into this season, but the same can be said for Matz after gaining his own bit of momentum to finish 2018.
His the southpaw’s second-half ERA (4.97) looks a whole lot worse than what he did in the first half (3.38), but there were some positives to be encouraged about.
One was a very noticeable rise in strikeout rate (20.9% to 27.1%) and slight drop in walk rate (9.1% to 8.5%). The rise in strikeouts was something that kept happening on a month-to-month basis since July. After posting a 20.7% rate then, it rose to 23.7% in August before getting all the way to 30.5% in September. He paired that September strikeout rate with a 2.51 ERA and .270 wOBA allowed in 32.1 innings, which was tied for the highest number of innings he threw in any month.
After being constantly troubled with injuries, it had to feel great for him to finish off a career-high workload that strong. Piggy-backing off of that is entering the spring without any worries about completing rehab — he can solely focus on getting himself ready for the regular season by fine-tuning certain areas of his game.
Progression Of His Breaking Pitches
While it’d be helpful to increase the pitch value of his fastball, the continued progression of Matz’ curveball and slider will be a key part of how his overall performance susses out in 2019. Here’s a look at the results those offerings produced between an injury-filled and ineffective 2017 and a more healthy and productive 2018.
|Slider in ’17||0.0%||18.2%||.111||.403||160|
|Slider in ’18||3.4%||15.3%||.055||.260||71|
|Curveball in ’17||0.0%||13.6%||.091||.325||110|
|Curveball in ’18||2.5%||32.5%||.167||.268||75|
The results Matz got from these pitches in 2018 are more along the lines of what happened in 2016, so the hope of this leap being sustainable moving forward is certainly there. It’s also worth noting that the batted-ball profile for his slider and curveball took equally encouraging leaps when taking a peek at the year prior.
The ground-ball rate for both of these offerings ticked up over 60.0%, while his fly-ball rate allowed still didn’t get past 20.0%, and his line-drive rate dipped down to around 20.0% after hovering the 28.0% mark in 2017.
Hoping for Matz to make a Snell-sized breakout in 2018 wouldn’t be fair. But as long as he can continue staying healthy, the opportunity to start being included when people talk about the Mets’ great starting pitching is there for him to grab.