2014 Rockies Player Season Review – Tyler Matzek

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REMINDER ROX FANS, TYLER MATZEK IS STILL REALLY YOUNG! AND PRETTY GOOD…POTENTIALLY.

I remember in 2009 when the Rox were trying to get Matzek signed at the 11th hour. Matzek was viewed as the 2nd best prospect in that draft after the great Stephen Strasberg. He fell to the Rox that year only because he was for sure going to the play at the U of Oregon. But the team managed to get him to bite and signed him (I seem to remember his dad being unemployed at the time, which helped push him to sign).

 

Good decision for him, because even with the great arm after his struggles in the minors over the past few years, I don’t think he would have been more than a 3rd round pick as a junior/senior. (Matzek was a #23 prospect in 2010 and #34 2011). But once signed the team was committed to making the pick and money result in value. It got so bad the team had decided to see if he could become a decent reliever, using his hard throwing left arm in a Rex Brothers fashion.

 

But thanks to a rebound at AA Tulsa in 2013 and the injury explosion in Colorado in 2014, he got his chance. And he did a pretty good job of taking advantage of it. In 19 starts he went:

 

Season: 6-11 4.05 ERA 117.2 inn 1.394 WHIP 91:44 K/BB ERA+ 105 FIP 3.78
Home: 4-4 3.61 ERA 52.1 inn 1.261 WHIP 35:16 K/BB .296 BABIP FIP 3.27
Road: 2-7 4.41 ERA 65.1 inn 1.500 WHIP 56:28 K/BB .332 BABIP FIP 4.19

 

A couple of interesting facts already just from these top line numbers. For one, if we throw out his one disastrous relief appearance, his season ERA was a nice even 4.00, not too bad for a rookie throwing at Coors. But of course, we see that we might have another Jorge De La Rosa on our hands, as he threw very well in his 8 starts at home. His BABIP at home shows he was about league average, but for Coors, he was probably a bit lucky…unless he really does have the ability to make weak contact (and his stuff should be able to do that).   He also had a slightly better than 2:1 strikeout ratio, a bit better than on the road, though as nasty as his stuff is, I expected more along the lines of a K/inning, rather than just 6/9 – but that also is some of how the team wants him to pitch at home – get ground balls and get out. In fact he gets a bit over 50% groundballs/Fly-ball or line-outs, so that does align with the team’s philosophy, doing even a tad bit better than Jordan Lyles in this category. So maybe Matzek is already pitching smart at home, and in 2015 if the team is healthy (ie., Tulo) that strategy is going to be even better.

 

As for his road performance? Well, it does appear to be an issue of bad luck, with the .332 BABIP being a pretty good sign of that. If he can have a K/9 rate over 8 in 2015 (he was at 7.7 in 2014) and get better luck in the fielding department, he should have stats more evenly split between home and road (assuming the home stay about the same).

 

For those who are unfamiliar with FIP it is a way of looking at the things the pitcher can control – walks, strikeouts and homers, and determining the ERA from that. A FIP of 3 or under is considered pretty good, and he was almost there in 2014 at home, while far more average on the road.

 

As for the homerun situation – he gave up only 3 at home…and 9 on the road? That is weird stat again. It may be the case where in trying to get more Ks on the road he is ending up in scenarios where a homer is possible, where as trying to stay low in the zone at home to get ground balls has him avoiding potential gopher balls.

 

Time for a deeper look, checking out the R/L splits and some other details:

 

Vs. R 386 PA 104 H 25 2B 4 3B 8 HR .306 BA .374 OBP .848 OPS .347 BABIP
Vs. L 117 PA 16 H 4 2B 1 3B 1 HR .147 BA .205 OBP .434 OPS .200 BABIP
Vs. R – home 172 PA 46 H 15 2B 0 3B 2 HR .289 BA .345 OBP .772 OPS
Vs. R – road 214 PA 58 H 10 2B 4 3B 6 HR .309 BA .398 OBP .912 OPS
Vs. L – home 45 PA    4 H    1 2B 0 3B 0 HR .098 BA .178 OBP .300 OPS
Vs. L – road 72 PA 12 H 3 2B 1 3B 1 HR .177 BA .222 OBP .516 OPS

 

Give the young man credit, he turned left-handed hitter at home into instant outs. An OPS of .300? That is better than Clayton Kershaw, though granted in a much smaller data set. But even on the road that OPS vs. lefties was among the best. The problem that Matzek had in 2014 was against righties, and again strangely, against righties on the road. You aren’t going to win many games when you are giving up a .912 OPS to righties. If he can just bring that OPS down to what he had at home in 2014, something around .772-.790, then he will immediately become a far better, more successful pitcher.

 

Some other interesting data points:

  1. Matzek, unlike Jordan Lyles, managed to be consistent throughout the inning, having just about the same OPS regardless of whether there was 0,1, or 2 outs (.778, .755, .707), with the lowest OPS when you want it most – getting to that 3rd out.
  2. With RISP and 2-out and RISP he was pretty good, explaining why dispite the relatively high WHIP he had an ERA of 4.00. With RISP he allowed only a .262 BA/.358 OBP/.785 OPS and with 2-out RISP a .245 BA/.315/.703 OPS. Again, just marginal improvement, reducing those numbers by say 50 points, will make around a 3.30 ERA. And he certainly has the stuff to get there.
  3. Like a lot of younger pitchers he is still learning how to get outs as a batter faces him more and more often. On their first PA batters hit .245 BA/.298 OBP/.688 OPS, the 2nd time it increased to .261 BA/.304 OBP/.724 OPS (a fairly small increase), but the 3rd time through it jumped to a dangerous level – .293 BA/.397 OPS/.828 OPS. Again, even a slight improvement in these numbers will increase his overall numbers. As he develops his changeup more an more to help out his slider/fastball pitches, those numbers can and will decline.
  4. Unlike Jordan Lyles who has grown into the 5-man, 4 day rest model over the three seasons in the bigs, Matzek still struggles with only 4 days of rest, and gave his best work with 5 days: 4.25 ERA, 1.397 WHIP, .273 BA/.330 OBP/.763 OPS with a .313 BABIP on 4-days rest vs 2.81 ERA, 1.305 WHIP, .242/.324 OBP/.692 OPS with a .291 BABIP on 5-days rest in a similar amount of innings. As Matzek gets stronger and throws more innings over the next few seasons (total innings including minors in 2014 were 184.1 (117.2 in majors and 66.2 in minors) vs. only 142.1 in 2013 and 2012. That is a big jump in one season, and the extra days rest clearly served him. Expect numbers to shift towards the standard 4-day rest cycle.
  5. One of the really encouraging data points is that Matzek was consistent between what baseball reference calls High and Low leverage situations, something you want to see in your top guys: .257 BA/.333 OBP/.752 OPS in High Leverage and .253 BA/.347 OBP/.772 in Low Leverage.

 

We may be a season or so away from Matzek really being a true #2 starter, but based on his stuff and performance in this first season, he certainly profiles as such – which with the other arms coming is a very positive sign.

 

As we look at his actual game performance we see he started out great: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER 7:0 K/BB (he started the 8th with a shutout, but after giving up 2 singles was lifted, with both runs scoring). What had to be especially encourage was that 7:0 K/BB rate after all the struggles he had in the minors. His next 2 starts were only so-so (5.0 inn/10 H, 3 ER 0:2 K/BB and 5.1 inn, 7 H, 5 ER 2:4 K/BB). It wasn’t just the hits and runs, it was the return of the control issues. But for young pitchers it is all about making adjustments, and we saw that in start #4 – 6.0 inn, 5 H, 1 ER 3:0 K/BB @ Mil against a good hitting team in a hitters park. He followed this up with another quality start against the Nationals going 6.1 inn, 6 H, 3 ER 6:1 K/BB. Already in those first 4 starts it was clear, when he walks people he gives up runs, when he doesn’t he can strand the hits he gives up. After 2 more so-so starts (both 6 inn, giving up 8 and 7 hits, 5 and 4 ER with 4:4 and 2:1 K/BB rates), he threw 2 straight quality starts:

 

7/20 @PIT 6.0 inn 7 Hits 3 ER 8:3 K/BB
7/26 PIT 7.0 inn 3 Hits 0 ER 3:2 K/BB

 

But again the league adjusted and he had 3 straight so-so/poor starts: 4 inn, 5inn, 6 inn, 10 hits, 4 hits, 8 hits allowing 8 ER (in Detroit), 3 ER (in Arizona) and 5 ER (in San Diego) while struggling again with control going 2:2 (Detroit)/2:5 (Arizona)/9:2(San Diego). While only the game in Detroit was truly awful, Matzek simply wasn’t very good in this stretch, and explains why his road numbers are so much worse than home.

 

Want to be excited? Here are Tyler’s last 7 games:

8/19 KCR 6.2 inn 6 Hits 3 ER 5:3 K/BB
8/25 @ SFG 7.0 8 2 7:2
8/30 @ ARI 7.0 3 0 4:3
9/5 SDP 9.0 3 0 6:1
9/10@NYM 6.1 4 2 7:4
9/16 LAD 5.1 11 2 6:1
9/22@SDP 6.0 4 1 8:3

 

Only 1 non quality-start in those last 7 games, against a very good Dodgers team, where he till managed to keep 10 of the 12 runners from scoring (he gave up 7 hits on seeing eye hits through the infield – groundball pitchers are simply going to have those days – Matzek only allowed a .280 BABIP on groundballs, so it was a very unlucky day). While he did have 4 games with 3 or more walks (far too high for long-term success), he was maintaining close to his 2:1 K/BB ratio in these starts other than the ARI game. Given that he should have been fatigued at the end of the year, his high quality pitching had to be a great sign as the team goes into the off-season.

 

If my math is correct, that is a 1.91 ERA over those last 7 starts!

And, if we remove those 3 stinkers in early August when he seemed to hit the wall (all on the road), his road ERA would have been 2.93.

 

Of course we can’t just remove those starts, but it gives us at least a peek at what a pitcher who is stretched out enough to pitch 190 or so innings, and so doesn’t crash into the wall, might do on the road in 2015. Yes, all pitchers still have been outings, and Matzek still had bad ones aside from those 3, but using the rest of his road starts as the baseline, we might well see Tyler throwing around 3.00-3.30 ERA ball over a season on the road. And if he can do anything close to a 3.50 or so at home, we suddenly have a pitcher whose numbers are better than Jorge De La Rosa. But that is the future…and I think it is a bright one.

 

2014 Season Grade:

 

Home: B+ – Again, I am grading based on expectations here. And for a pitcher in the #2 or #3 role, to go out and give the team a sub 4 ERA in around 2/3 of the season, without having to rely on a whole lot of good luck, seems like around a B+ pitcher. At home this season Tyler at times looked like ace material. In 8 home starts he gave them 4 quality starts, 6 starts of at least 6 innings, 6 starts of 4 or fewer runs, 2 games without giving up any runs, and 4 games of 2 or fewer runs. That is almost Jorge De La Rosa percentages!

Road: C+ – Here, I may actually be grading too harshly, relying too much on top line numbers for this relatively low grade. If we take out those 3 games in August, Matzek might well have earned a B+ or A-. As it was he had 7 of 12 starts grade out as quality starts, or 58%. He pitched at least 6 innings in 8 of 12 road start, which even more than limiting runs, was essential for this team as its bullpen was running on fumes. A C+ is a tough grade given those numbers, but this team has high expectation for this former #1 pick, and even in this rookie campaign, it sure seemed like he should be able to reach those lofty expectations.

 

Overall Grade: Solid B! – Not a lot went right in 2014. If you go up and down the roster few players met the goals in terms of games played, offense, defense (or pitching for the staff) the team had set out for its players. Among the top three Corey Dickerson and Justin Mornuea represent the efforts of the position players, one vet bouncing back and one rookie breaking through. Tyler Matzek would have liked more wins and a lower, but he truly had a breakout rookie year. Here is too many more.

 

2015 Projection:

 

Matzek has areas to improve upon. He has to keep the walks down. He has to get righties out a little more often with softer contact. And he needs to build up his endurance so he doesn’t wear down in 2015 and beyond. With those two

 

2015 if he continues on development path:

33 starts   14-7, 3.45 ERA   1.255 WHIP 2.2 K/BB Ratio, .285 BABIP

 

If he stagnates

27 starts   9-7, 3.98 ERA   1.302 WHIP 1.9 K/BB Ratio, .304 BABIP

 

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