By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
2016 season (Majors): 22 G, 22 GS, 132.1 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 9 W, 129 SO, 31 BB
The New York Mets have built one of the most impressive young rotations in all of baseball over the past few years, with young arms like Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz all pitching like staff aces at one point or another. The problem, though, has been injuries. While Syndergaard has managed to remain unscathed thus far, Harvey, deGrom and Matz are each returning from season-ending injuries which all required surgery.
Harvey and deGrom have a lot to prove but have already put together multiple seasons of 20-plus starts. Matz, however, had what looked to be his breakout season cut short last year. Now he’ll look to come back from another on a lengthy list of injuries and try to prove he can put together not only a 30-start season, but an effective one for the Mets.
After a hiccup in his first start of the 2016 season, Matz picked up where he left off in the ‘15 postseason and pitched very well. In fact, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the early part of the year. In 11 starts from April 17 to June 18, Matz went 7-2 with a 1.91 ERA and .232 BAA with 72 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings. All was going well through August, and he even flirted with a no-hitter in a start against the Padres on Aug. 14. That outing, however, turned out to be his last of the year. He hit the disabled list with left shoulder discomfort and never returned, officially being ruled out for the year at the end of September when the Mets announced he would have a bone spur removed from his left elbow.
While the surgery is considered minor and is somewhat common, the issue is that this isn’t the first time Matz has battled injuries. Drafted out of high school in the second round in ‘09, Matz’s pro career got off to an inauspicious start when he experienced elbow discomfort in an instructional league in ‘10. He had a torn UCL and needed Tommy John surgery, which kept him out for almost two full seasons. The left-hander didn’t make his pro debut until ‘12. From there, he developed in the Minors before making his way to the Mets in ‘15. He got hurt once again after just two starts and missed two months before returning to help the Mets in their postseason run.
Matz was able to make his ‘17 spring debut on March 6 and pitched well with no issues in two scoreless innings. When healthy and at his best, we’ve seen how effective he can be. Matz features a fastball that sits around 93-94 miles per hour to go along with a curveball, slider and changeup in the low 80s. The slider will be key, as it’s a pitch he developed when returning from injury in ‘15 and became an important part of his arsenal at the start of last season. It’s also a pitch that he was unable to throw towards the end of last year when the elbow discomfort arose. According to Fangraphs’ data, Matz used the slider 12.7% of the time in 11 starts before June 18 last year. The rest of the year, he used it just 8% of the time and barely threw it in some starts.
In order to be at his best in ‘17, Matz will need to be 100 percent and have a full arsenal at his disposal. We’ve seen how high the ceiling can be with Matz, it’s just a matter of whether he can stay on the mound and reach it.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.