Moreover, his work in the Pacific Coast League made plain that he is among the organization's top six starters. He is ready to step in and contribute to a major league rotation right now. That's the easy part.
The difficult part was fitting him into a rotation that has been the Mets' strength so far in 2015. Entering this weekend's play, the Mets' starting rotation had the ninth-best ERA in baseball (3.80) and both the fifth-best FIP (3.49) and collective WAR (7.6).
The issue is fitting Matz into the big league roster. After the Mets dispatched Dillon Gee, they still had five healthy, competent starters. In this context, moving to a six-man rotation, which will give the other starters extra rest, makes sense. In theory, that should keep all of the pitchers more healthy and effective.
Matz, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom have all worked in a six-man rotation in the minor leagues within the last two years and should be used to this routine. Meanwhile, Jon Niese has been a better pitcher on five days' rest (3.41 ERA) than on four days' rest (4.26 ERA). Matt Harvey has also pitched better with more rest, putting up a 2.58 ERA in 16 starts on five days rest, versus a 3.19 ERA in his 25 starts on four days' rest.
It's unlikely that this six-man rotation holds up for the duration of the season. Pitchers get hurt. One or more of this sextet is likely to miss time between here and game 162.
Make no mistake, though, moving to a six-man rotation has a cost in lost roster flexibility. With the extra starter, the Mets will be short a bench player on a bench that already has a lack of strong pinch-hitting options. The Mets have struggled to generate runs (27th in runs scored and 26th in wOBA), so punting high-leverage at-bats should not be part of the plan. However, asking their starting pitchers to work deeper into the game could mitigate against some of the workload advantage of moving to a six-man rotation.
Matz simply had nothing left to prove in Triple-A. At the time of his promotion, he led the Pacific Coast League in ERA (2.19), strikeouts (94 -- by a margin of 20!), innings pitched (90.1) and strikeouts per nine innings pitched among starters. His opponents' batting average against of .213 was third.
Matz did not always look like a good big leaguer, or even a very good prospect. Thanks to early Tommy John surgery, Matz's career was stuck in neutral for his first three and a half years as a professional. Matz was drafted in the 2009 out of Ward Melville High School, but did not pitch professionally that season.
Then, in 2010, instead of pitching for a short-season affiliate, he underwent surgery in May when his elbow gave out. Out went his 2010 and 2011 seasons in which he experienced setbacks during his rehab. In 2012, he appeared in a professional game for the first time for Kingsport. He pitched well for a month, making six starts, until shoulder tendinitis cut short his return.
However, since 2013, he has rapidly ascended through the Mets system, and as he has done so, his prospect status has risen accordingly. Since that point, he has been durable and effective, helping lead the 2013 Savannah Sand Gnats and the 2014 Binghamton Mets to league titles. Entering the 2015 season, Matz described the title-clinching game with Binghamton, in which he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, as the best game he had ever thrown.
Matz succeeds with a three-pitch arsenal: a fastball, a curve and a changeup. His fastball runs from 92-95 mph, and he can get it up to 97 when he really reaches back. He is willing to work inside to batters and can climb the ladder to get a strikeout as well. In the low minors, his changeup was his second pitch. He had good arm speed on the offering to create deception, and, at times, good movement down.
His curve would come and go, and he would struggle to find his release point and pull the offering out of the zone. However, his curveball made nice progress in 2014 under the tutelage of Double-A pitching coach Glenn Abbott. Matz should now have at least one plus offering and two average off-speed pitches, either of which could play to plus on a given night.
To get a feel for Matz's big-league readiness, compare his work in Triple-A to that of the Mets' other highly touted young pitchers in the last four years.
|Matz '15 PCL||15||2.19||26.2||8.6||1.7||.213|
|Noah Syndergaard '15 PCL||5||1.82||30.1||7.1||1.8||.192|
|Syndergaard PCL Total||31||4.09||25.7||7.3||1.9||.276|
|Jacon deGrom '14 PCL||7||2.58||18.0||6.2||1.2||.267|
|deGrom PCL Total||21||3.87||18.7||6.9||1.6||.281|
|Zack Wheeler '13 PCL||13||3.93||25.1||9.3||3.1||.236|
|Matt Harvey '12 IL||20||3.68||23.7||10.1||1.9||.233|
Even allowing for the growing pains, Matz is ready to step in now, and be an above-average major league starter. Ideally, adding him to the rotation and providing extra rest to his rotation mates will make his colleagues even better. The trade-off to running a six-man rotation is losing a bench player or final reliever. Good work from Matz will make the benefits far outweigh the costs in that calculation. He can't do much about the Mets' offense, but more good young pitching at the risk of stating the obvious, a good thing.