The Toronto Blue Jays made a few moves this past off-season to strengthen the starting rotation. They resigned Robbie Ray to a one-year deal and also traded Sean Reid-Foley, Josh Winckowski, and Yennsy Diaz to the New York Mets in exchange for southpaw Steven Matz.
Ray struggled with his command to begin the year but has since turned into one of the Blue Jays’ most effective starters, pitching to a 3.13 ERA with 130 strikeouts, 24 walks, and a 1.053 WHIP through 17 starts and 100.2 innings of work.
On the flip side, Matz had a strong start to the campaign but has since fallen on hard times, currently pitching to a 4.72 ERA with 82 strikeouts, 21 walks, and a 1.376 WHIP through 76.1 innings pitched. He’s had difficulty with facing opponents throughout the game, holding batters to a .225 batting average first time through the lineup but then seeing a steady increase through the second and third time through the order, .291 and .344 respectively.
The Toronto Blue Jays could be very active on the trade market prior to the deadline, and with a starting pitcher potentially on the wish list, southpaw Steven Matz could see a position change from the rotation to the bullpen.
Heading into the second half of the season, Steven Matz’s job in the rotation could be in jeopardy if he keeps putting up rough outings and runs on the scoreboard, especially if Ross Atkins goes and adds another starter at the deadline. The left-hander has limited experience in the bullpen, pitching in relief for three games last season while primarily being used as a starter for his career.
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Ray, Hyun Jin Ryu, and Alek Manoah are going to anchor the rotation for the Blue Jays with Ross Stripling bringing up the group after the turnaround he’s had since late May when he changed up his mechanics on the mound. The right-hander has seen his ERA drop to 4.34 while also pitching deeper into games since the changes.
It would be shocking if the Blue Jays don’t add some arms before the deadline, with a few relief pitchers and an established starting pitcher most likely on the wish list. A veteran starter like Jose Berrios or Sonny Gray (just examples, feel free to add in who you see fit) would be a benefit to the rotation, and in doing so, someone has to be moved to the bullpen with Matz being the most likely target.
The second/third time through the order stats are what is most concerning for Matz and the Blue Jays, as an effective starter needs to go deep into games and keep runs off the board. While most pitchers will see a slight rise in opponents batting average through the game as the team sees more pitches, Matz’s increase is roughly 70 points higher between the first and second time through the order. He has to mix up what he is doing or find a way to keep hitters guessing, otherwise, he will keep taxing the bullpen if he can’t go past the fifth inning. It doesn’t help if he can’t put the Blue Jays in a winning position if he gives up 4+ earned runs a game.
Another issue has been the consistency, as he can show flashes of brilliance where he goes 5.2 innings with only one earned run and then follows that start with a four-run game where he can’t get out of the third inning. I’m not saying he has to pitch a perfect game or go eight innings every time he steps on the mound, but overall he is the fifth man in the rotation and has struggled to find a rhythm as a starter this year.
If Ross Atkins finds an established starter on the trade market or Steven Matz pitches a few rough outings at the start of the second half of the season, it is very plausible that he could be moved to the bullpen to finish the year.
While I would rather see him regain his form that fans saw through the first three games as a Blue Jays starter, his time in the rotation could come to a close if the organization is serious about contending for the postseason and Matz struggles early.