Steven Matz: About Last Night (September 18)

I’m sure like a lot of people who follow the Mets, I thought this start by Steven Matz (4-0) against the Yankees was a good test for the rookie. It was in the Subway Series, with both teams vying for the playoffs, and if there’s a more electric place than NYC when the games matter I’ve never been there. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist. I rarely go to football games, haven’t been to an EPL game, and haven’t checked out NASCAR. Not to mention that I haven’t traveled around the country visiting baseball parks.


My point, though, is that for a rookie making his fifth career start this is a pretty big deal.  Also, that rookie is from Long Island and grew up a Mets fan. When the rotation for this series was announced I was a little concerned for this start. Giving the opening game to Matz worried me because of his inexperience. Since returning from the disabled list, Matz has at times—notably early in the games—looked taken by nerves. Well, if ever there was going to be a time to be nervous, the first few innings of last night’s game was going to be that time. I wondered if Matz should have maybe gotten the afternoon start on Saturday. Would that extra day get him even more amped up? Would it be better to go righty, lefty, righty? Did he have time to work on the issue with slowing his arm down when throwing the curve? Would overthinking it cause more problems?

I think about stuff like this way too much. Why can’t I sleep at night? I think we’ve found our answer.

Matz was fine. You would think that with a mid-90s fastball he’d figure that sort of stuff out, but that’s not always the case. Not in today’s game when everyone throws a mid-90s fastball. Early on it was the fastball that was causing Matz all kinds of trouble as he walked Brett Gardner to lead off the game with fastballs that weren’t really close. It reminded me of his first start against Cincinnati a little. Carlos Beltran then singled on a fastball letter high on the outside black. You could see that one coming. Beltran has been around a while. He’s 38 now. He was looking for a pitch out over the plate he could hit to right field, and Matz gave him one. A single isn’t so bad. Beltran is a professional hitter.

It wasn’t the case, but it sure seemed like the Yankees had runners on base for most of the game. Almost. Matz retired the side in both the third and the fourth, but he spent a fair amount of time in the stretch. The Yankees didn’t hit the ball especially hard. Other than a Chase Headley fly ball in the third that landed in Michael Conforto’s mitt at the warning track, I don’t recall too many balls that were hit especially hard. The Yankees didn’t start Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, or Alex Rodriguez and are without Mark Texeira, so the lineup didn’t have the pop that in normally does. No offense to Brendan Ryan, but he doesn’t pose the same risk for a long ball as McCann does.

One of the things I’ve found that I enjoy when watching Matz is his ability to handcuff batters. I’ve written before about how impressive it is that he pitches inside as well as he does considering his age and experience. Last night, it was evident that he has a real ability to throw inside but locate and bury that fastball under a batters hands so they can do little with it except foul it off or hit it weakly. It reminds me of watching a tennis player serve into their opponent’s body.

The curveball last night wasn’t especially impressive. I wonder if much of that is because of working on mechanics and overthinking, as I wrote above. It wasn’t necessarily a bad pitch last night. It didn’t have the filthy bite that I remember from that glorious start in Los Angeles, but it wasn’t long and sweeping (and extremely hittable) as it was against Miami. Maybe somewhere in the middle. According to Adam Rubin on ESPN, Matz used a slider for the first time last night. It was interesting to listen to the YES broadcast because they were commenting on the unknown pitch that had movement a little like a cutter. Well, if you’re going to learn on the job and be able to add a new pitch, that’s pretty fantastic. We’re discussing a work in progress here, but I’m interested to see where he goes with this.

Also, I’d like to point out that things like this amaze me. Sometimes we forget how talented these guys are, but picking up a new pitch in a few bullpen sessions and mixing it in to big league hitters as the game progresses is impressive.

It was a good game for Matz. According to Rubin and the Elias Sports Bureau, Matz “became the first pitcher in franchise history to allow two or fewer runs in each of his first five starts”. Impressive stuff. I wonder if in his next few starts how Matz’s curveball comes along. I thought he pitched extremely well when mixing in his changeup. If he can get his curveball back to neither breaking lazily into the middle of the plate or sweeping through the hitting zone with a big neon “Crush” sign on it, he’ll be that much more dangerous.

On the night, Matz threw six innings and allowed one earned run on seven hits and a walk with four strikeouts. A night like this gives me hope that if there’s a potential playoff start/appearance, Matz will be able to handle the stress.

Below I’ve listed the particulars for yesterday’s game.

Pitches by Type:

##  Pitch Type Count     %
##    Changeup    17  16.7
##   Curveball    18  17.6
##    Fourseam     1 0.980
##      Sinker    66  64.7

Pitch Type by Inning

##            1  2  3 4 5  6
## Changeup   0  1  3 5 5  3
## Curveball  5  3  5 1 3  1
## Fourseam   0  0  1 0 0  0
## Sinker    17 17 10 6 6 10

Pitches by Outcome:

##                 Changeup Curveball Fourseam Sinker
## Ball                   6         5        0     21
## Ball In Dirt           0         1        0      2
## Called Strike          4         5        0     16
## Foul                   3         1        1     11
## Foul Bunt              0         0        0      1
## Foul Tip               1         0        0      0
## In play, no out        0         2        0      5
## In play, out(s)        2         4        0      7
## In play, run(s)        0         0        0      1
## Swinging Strike        1         0        0      2

Events by Final Pitch of At-Bat

##           Changeup Curveball Sinker
## Flyout           0         1      3
## Forceout         0         0      4
## Groundout        2         2      0
## Lineout          0         1      0
## Sac Fly          0         0      1
## Single           0         2      5
## Strikeout        3         1      0
## Walk             0         0      1

Pitches by Zone Location

##  Zone % Out of Zone % O-Swing % Z-Swing %
##   51.96         48.04     24.98     51.96

Note: Zone % is the number of pitches thrown that were considered in the strike zone; Out of Zone is the number of pitches thrown out of the strike zone; and O-Swing % and Z-Swing % relate to those pitches out of the zone and in the zone that were swung at by batters.

Calculations: I calculated the strike zone based upon the formula provided by Mike Fast in a post for Baseball Prospectus. O-Swing % = Swings at Pitches Out of the Zone / Total Pitches Out of the Zone, and Z-Swing % = Swings at Pitches In the Zone / Total Pitches In the Zone. Fangraphs has a great explanation regarding plate discipline, and I encourage you to read about it if you get a chance. After enjoying my site first, of course.

Pitch Types by Zone Location

##  Pitch Type In Zone Out of Zone O-Swing % Z-Swing %
##    Changeup       6          11     0.273     0.500
##   Curveball      12           6     0.167     0.500
##    Fourseam       0           1      1.00       NaN
##      Sinker      35          31     0.226     0.514

Strikeouts by Description

##                 Changeup Curveball
## Called Strike          2         1
## Swinging Strike        1         0

Standard Batting Lines Against Steven Matz

##           Batter PA AB H 2B 3B HR K BB HBP SF    BA   OBP   SLG Pitches
##     Brendan  Ryan  3  3 1  0  0  0 1  0   0  0 0.333 0.333 0.333      13
##    Brett  Gardner  3  2 1  0  0  0 1  1   0  0 0.500 0.667 0.500      16
##   Carlos  Beltran  3  3 1  0  0  0 0  0   0  0 0.333 0.333 0.333       6
##    Chase  Headley  3  3 1  0  0  0 0  0   0  0 0.333 0.333 0.333       8
##      Chris  Young  3  2 1  0  0  0 0  0   0  1 0.500 0.333 0.500      11
##   Didi  Gregorius  3  3 1  0  0  0 1  0   0  0 0.333 0.333 0.333      12
##     Gregory  Bird  3  3 1  0  0  0 0  0   0  0 0.333 0.333 0.333      17
##        JR Murphy  3  3 0  0  0  0 1  0   0  0 0.000 0.000 0.000      12
##  Masahiro  Tanaka  2  2 0  0  0  0 0  0   0  0 0.000 0.000 0.000       7

Pitches Velocities & Movement:

##  Pitch Type  Min Mean  Max Mean Hor Mean Vert CRT Mean Hor CRT Mean Vert
##    Changeup 82.5 84.8 87.6    6.618     2.559        6.138         1.092
##   Curveball 73.7 76.5 78.7   -5.509    -7.609       -6.088        -9.171
##    Fourseam 88.0 88.0 88.0   -1.290     2.390       -2.063         1.007
##      Sinker 91.0 94.1 97.2    9.669     5.120        9.321         3.960

Note: Horizontal movement denotes average distance, in inches, from point of release to home plate (+ moves away from a right-handed batter) while vertical movement is average distance, in inches, from release point to home plate. As measured from the back point of home plate, the x-axis (horizontal) runs to the catcher’s right, the y-axis points at the pitcher, and the z-axis (vertical) runs upward.

Note 2: The corrected horizontal and vertical are based upon a paper by Alan M. Nathan from the University of Illinois nd account for the elimination of both gravity and drag. The corrected averages more accurately reflect the true movement of the baseball.

Average (MPH) Velocity for Pitches by Starters Last Night:

2015-09-19_Steven Matz_BoxPlot

Below are the pitch locations by both batter stance (left or right) and by pitch type.

Pitch Location by Stance:

2015-09-19_Steven Matz_Stance

Pitch Location by Pitch Type:

2015-09-19_Steven Matz_Pitches

Pitch Locations by Batter:

2015-09-19_Steven Matz_Batters

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