Can you guess which Mets pitcher has the team's best ERA, and is tied for the most wins in the rotation?
It's not Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, both hurlers you might have tabbed this preseason.
It's Steven Matz, the soon-to-be 28-year-old southpaw.
Matz's Mets career has seen several ups and downs. He lit it up as a rookie in 2015, earning a spot in the postseason rotation. He has since struggled with injuries, hitting the Injured List every year of his big-league career.
The time on the IL took a toll on Matz. From 2016-2018, he went just 16-26 with a 4.16 ERA and struggled with the home run ball. He had seemed to plateau as just another average starter.
However, Matz has turned things around a bit this year. While he's never going to be the next ace of the Mets, Matz is playing an important role as the bridge between the front end of the rotation and the back end, settling into a niche as a reliable, mid-rotation starter.
Most notably, Matz's strikeout and walk rates are trending in the right direction. After a 2017 campaign where his walks were low but his strikeouts dipped, and a 2018 season that saw the reverse effect, Matz's figures have stabilized this year.
Matz is striking out the most batters of his career this season (9.07 K/9). His walk rate has also dropped to a more manageable 2.62 per nine innings, which is almost a whole walk less than he averaged last year (3.39 BB/9 in 2018).
The key lies with Matz's breaking pitches. He threw his slider more often down the stretch last year with solid results. While he has scaled back his overall slider usage this season, he is using it in smart situations.
The slider has been Matz's put-away pitch 37.5 percent of the time he's thrown it. Hitters haven't had too many answers for it -- batters have just one hit off it, and swing and miss on 35.3 percent of the time.
Matz's curveball is also crucial to his success. He's thrown it a little bit less in recent years, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Hitters averaged .338 off it in 2016, the year he threw it most. With reduced usage and a more varied pitch mix, batters are just hitting .214 off it over the past two years.
Matz has relied on his changeup more often to get batters to lay off his breaking balls. While it's still a work in progress (he's allowed 10 home runs off it over the last two years), it has the second-highest whiff rate of any of Matz's pitches.
Even with the improved metrics, it's still a grind sometimes for Matz. Take this week's start against the Nationals, for example.
Matz allowed 12 baserunners over six innings, but only let one of them score in a win that manager Mickey Callaway called "an unbelievable outing." He pounded his sinker to get double plays, and relied on his curveball for strikeouts.
A few years ago, it would have been easy to see Matz lose focus and give up the big inning. This year though, his strand rate is an exceptional 81 percent. Matz is getting out of jams at a higher rate than past years, and it's helped him become a crucial part of the Mets' rotation.
More likely than not, deGrom and Syndergaard will revert to their ace selves, and the Mets may finally get some consistent depth starters. In the meantime though, Matz is being counted on as one of the Mets' most integral pieces, and he's mostly gotten the job done.