Steven Matz's midseason return to the Mets began with much promise, as he posted a 2.12 ERA over his first five starts. Even with impressive results, though, he was showing many red flag, and unfortunately it has all come crumbling down since.
In 23 2/3 innings since July 9, he has allowed 29 runs, ballooning his season ERA to 5.77. He has allowed a career-high home run rate, and his hard-contact rate, formerly one of his strengths, has skyrocketed.
These are things that he also faced earlier in the season, but survived with a combination of an exceptionally high strand rate and a low batting average on balls in play. Both of these were expected to regress to league norms and they have indeed come plummeting back to earth.
The most concerning number for Matz is his strikeout rate, a career-low 6.7 per nine innings. This was also the cause of the most concern during his stretch of success as well, and fewer swinging strikes and more contact against him reinforces that he is not able to work as effectively within the strike zone this season.
It's certainly not impossible to pitch successfully without being a strikeout artist, but it's unusual and hard to sustain. To get by with a strikeout rate as low as Matz's, a pitcher needs to be elite at controlling contact. Even then, they will be more vulnerable to errors, bad luck and big innings compared to their counterparts with rates at or above league average. Matz is not elite at controlling contact, and the end result is that he's getting hit often -- and hard.
When a player simply loses the ability to generate swings and misses, injury is always a worry, and Matz's pitch selection suggests this could be at play. He is shying away from his fastball and from a slider that was incredibly effective for him in 2016. Instead, he heavily favors a curveball that is easier on the arm, but, in his case, much less effective. When he does throw his slider, he's lost significant velocity on it and his fastball is down a tick as well.
Any one of these changes could be written off as a new approach, or random variation. But taken together, there has to be serious concern that Matz is feeling pain while he pitches.
The injury that landed him on the disabled list to start the season was ostensibly a flexor strain, but imaging was never able to verify the diagnosis and the team was reportedly frustrated by doctors' inability to pin down the exact cause of soreness that led to his spring shutdown. With so much uncertainty surrounding his injury, it seems only reasonable that there would be uncertainty surrounding his recovery.
Since being drafted, Matz has been injury-prone, but whenever he has been healthy, he has excelled. With his significant struggles all season, it's time to seriously question whether he's healthy. And if he is healthy, it's time to get back to throwing the pitches that made him one of the Mets' most promising young talents.
Maggie Wiggin (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Archive Posts) has been a Mets fan since birth and a MetsBlog contributor since 2013. She loves throwing hard and hitting hard and hates the DH. When baseball is out of season, she fills her days with data analysis and evaluation and patiently waits for Spring