Steven Matz is so good when he is healthy. The problem is that he is rarely healthy, even dating back to his time in the minors. He needed Tommy John surgery in 2010 before he even played his first professional game, which did not come until two years later. Since his major league debut at the end of June 2015, he has made only 28 starts and pitched only 168 innings.
Matz made his season debut a little over a month ago after spending time recovering from a left elbow injury. He has not been good. One has to wonder, especially given the Mets’ less than stellar track record dealing with injuries, if Matz is actually healthy.
Before Matz’s latest start, the results looked fine with a 3.05 RA9, but there were a ton of red flags. He had given up 7 HR, had a .226 BABIP, a 90 percent strand rate, and a 5.10 FIP that is the result of his biggest problem of all: he is not striking anybody out.
It all culminated in an outing that Matz and Mets fans would very much like to forget. In his latest start, Terry Collins pulled him after only one inning. He gave up seven runs on nine hits and walked a batter. He now has a 4.58 RA9 and is averaging less than six innings per start.
Matz’s strikeout rate sits at a lowly 15 percent. That would be the fourth-worst strikeout rate among qualified starters (Matz unsurprisingly does not have enough innings to quality as a ‘qualified starter’). It is over eight percentage points down from his career rate going into this season. His whiff rate is down by a third over last year, but what is particularly odd is that hitters are making contact on 81 percent of the pitches outside the zone that they swing at. To put that in context, the league average among starters is 64 percent. Among pitchers with at least 100 IP, Matz’s O-Contact percentage would be the worst by five percentage points.
There is a bit of a command problem, primarily against right-handed hitters, which are the type that Matz faces the most. More pitches are concentrated in the middle of the zone.
Matz has been getting worse results on his sinker and curveball, too. Hitters are slugging .533 on his sinker and .400 on his curveball, as opposed to career rates of .399 and .287, respectively. His curveball is also getting a third of the whiffs that it used to.
Another very noticeable difference is Matz’s pitch usage. It is very different from last year.
Matz Pitch Usage
I can only speculate, but I am guessing that Matz’s elbow is still bothering him, which would explain why he is throwing few sliders and no fourseamers. If this is the case, this is another exhibit of the Mets’ questionable handling of injuries, an ongoing saga where the team has not earned the benefit of the doubt. Furthermore, the Mets have no shot at winning the division and almost no shot at winning a wild card. Embarrassingly, even the rebuilding Braves are ahead of them. If Matz is indeed still hurt, continuing to play such an injury prone player when the season is more or less over is irresponsible at best, and dangerous at worst.
When Matz is healthy, he is a solid number two pitcher, or a good number three at worst. He just does not look like the same pitcher he is when he’s healthy. The Mets are going to need a healthy Matz in 2018, and if Matz really is still hurt, the Mets are ensuring that it will not happen. If there is any concern about Matz health, the Mets should shut him down.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.