Toronto Blue Jays fans were pounding the table all offseason for the front office to go out and acquire an impact arm to pitch at the top of the rotation. They did not sign Trevor Bauer, they did not trade for Kyle Hendrics and they did not go after second tier guys like James Paxton, Taijuan Walker or Jake Odorizzi. Instead, they traded a handful of prospects to the New York Mets for LHP Steven Matz.
At the time of the trade, most Jays fans, including myself, kind of overlooked the deal, giving it little thought. It wasn’t a huge move, as Matz has been inconsistent over the course of his career and was on the outside looking in of a stacked Mets rotation.
When the deal happened, I actually thought the Jays were going to look too utilize Matz in a reliever role and hope that his velocity would play up in the bullpen. GM Ross Atkins had other plans and fully intended on using Matz as a starter, hoping that their player development staff could help him parlay his hard sinker and devisting changeup into success.
Matz has always been a guy who has great stuff, but just couldn’t seem to put it all together. He throws hard, with a sinker that sits in the mid 90’s, and he complements it with a plus change up and a wipe out curveball.
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He uses his power sinker and plus off speed pitches to rack up a ton of strikeouts, posting a K/9 ratio of 10.6 last season. Matz also has above average command, walking only 2.8 batters per nine innings over his career, and was in the 70th percentile in walk percentage last season according to StatCast.
Normally when a pitcher can combine elite stuff with good command it’s a recipe for success. This has not been the case for Matz. The problem for the Long Island native has been the amount of hard contact he gives up, which has led to an ugly 4.83 ERA over the last 4 seasons.
Matz was in the 5th percentile for exit velocity allowed and the 3rd percentile for hard hit percentage in 2020 and was a huge reason for his inflated ERA of 9.86. The Jays are rolling the dice on Matz and hoping that in a new environment and with new coaches, he can limit the amount of hard contact he allows and let his elite stuff to play more.
So far this spring he has done just that. In his first two outings, Matz has impressed, holding opposing hitters to a .125 batting average, striking out over a batter an inning and not allowing a walk.
It is just Spring Training and it’s still early, but if this is the real Steven Matz we’re seeing, he’s going to be a huge piece in a rotation that is really thin right now, especially after the injury to Nate Pearson.
If Matz can continue to limit hard contact, he has the stuff to put up All Star level numbers and could become a viable option to pitch behind Ryu in a potential playoff series.
Steven Matz may not have been the starter that everyone wanted this offseason. But with the raw talent he possesses, he has the potential to become the starter that the Jays needed.