Today we’re looking to see if the Blue Jays’ current fifth starter can match what their former fifth rotation member gave them during the 2021 season
In the off-season before the 2021 campaign, the Blue Jays decided to send a package of Minor League pitchers to the New York Mets for a highly touted at one-time, left-handed starter and New York native Steven Matz. Matz arrived to the show in 2015 going 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA in his rookie season. After that great start, the southpaw would have to work through injuries to stay in the big leagues.
He eventually ended up doing that in 2018 and 2019 respectively making 30 and 32 starts those seasons. Just like the year for many of us in 2020, Matz didn’t have a great one, only getting into nine games and sporting an 0-5 record to go with it. The Mets front office decided to take a set of Blue Jays prospects with limited big-league experience while sending Matz the other way.
The Blue Jays saw something in Matz that they could use. Add to the fact that he was left-handed, he was only making $5.2 million for 2021. Matz’s success came in the execution of his changeup. As per his Baseball Savant page, he had a .209 batting average compared to .296 from his sinker. His batting average against his sinker lowered to .296 from .322. This tells me the Jays found a better spot for his release point. Matz signed a four-year $44 Million dollar contract with the St.Louis Cardinals after his career-high 14 win season with the Blue Jays.
Matz’s departure left a void in the back end of the rotation for the Jays. They had a handful of options but decided to bring in Yusei Kikuchi. Kikuchi and Matz are 30. As my Jays Journal colleague Nick Prasad eloquently put, Kikuchi throws harder than Matz, Matz has a sinker, and Kikuchi uses a traditional fastball with some hesitancy in his delivery. Per his baseball savant page, Kikuchi uses his fastball and cutter almost evenly in 2021 at 35 and 35.6%. Kikuchi may look to use his changeup more as he had nice success with it in 2021.
Kikuchi had a .176 OBP using his changeup last season. Just like Steven Matz and Marco Estrada before him, if the Blue Jays pitching coach can give Kikuchi confidence to use his change-up, that could help the veteran keep his previous All-Star form from the first half of 2021. The Blue Jays signed Kikuchi to a 3 year $36 Million contract and are hoping they can see similar or better results from their previous fifth starter.