There are two ways Mets fans view Steven Matz. The optimist sees Matz as part of the Mets’ future rotation. The hater sees him as a declining asset. As we enter the busy part of the offseason, let’s examine both side’s opinion on how to proceed with the 26-year-old lefty.
He’ll be a star, give it time - Matz's debut was electric, and he finished out that 2015 season 4-0 down the stretch with an ERA of 2.27, which helped the Mets solidify their first NL East title since 2006. Matz followed up nicely in the playoffs, as he pitched to a solid 3.68 ERA. He kept that momentum rolling into the first half of 2016 season, as he posted 7-2 record with a 2.28 ERA from April to May. Once Matz regains full health, he’ll be the star we expect him to be.
He’s under team control for years - It’s rare that a lefty arm with Matz’s talent comes along, and the Mets have him under control until 2022. It would be short-sighted for management to trade him away, especially when his value is at his lowest. The front office must look past the cloud of recent injuries, and give as many opportunities to their young, cheap crop of starting pitchers to guide them to the playoffs.
Mickey is going to fix him - Mickey Callaway's specialty is pitching, and that bodes well for some of the arms that have unrealized potential, Matz included. During his tenure as pitching coach with the Cleveland Indians, Callaway oversaw a staff that produced two AL CY Young awards, and led the AL in strikeouts four seasons in a row. In 2017, Mickey’s staff led the AL in strikeouts, ERA, and WAR. Callaway has already sought to implement a new pitching regimen for our staff, and will shift towards more curveball usage. This is excellent news for Matz, who relies on the curveball as his secondary pitch.
Callaway also hopes to bring the Indians' strategy for injury prevention to the team as well, and with the help of a new training staff, Matz should spend less time on the DL and will feel more comfortable stepping on the mound.
He’s damaged goods - Matz has been injury prone throughout his career. He started with Tommy John’s surgery in 2010. Most recently, he needed season-ending surgery in 2017 to fix a nerve in his elbow. Not to mention he made his debut on June 10th because of elbow soreness that lingered from Spring Training. In the midst of a 2016 Wild Card run, the Mets shut Matz down because of shoulder soreness. Since his call up in 2015, Matz has pitched in only 44 games, including the postseason. If the Mets are going to contend, they'll need reliable arms in our starting rotation.
He can fetch something of value - It’s win-now time in Flushing, and the Mets have holes at OF and 2B, as well as an incomplete bullpen. Matz is the perfect trade piece to help fill some of those gaps. His team-control makes him attractive, as does his potential and his playoff experience. 2022, carries rare playoff experience, and has the potential to be an ace for a franchise. He's the perfect buy-low candidate for a team in selling mode.
Has he really been that good? - Everyone remembers Steven Matz’s historic debut late in the '15 season, but some of the subsequent stats are alarming. Since May 2016, Matz has struggled mightily with a 5.07 ERA over 143.2 Innings pitched.
Over that same time, we’ve seen his WHIP balloon from 1.11 to 1.43. His cumulative WAR peaked as high as +2.8 during the first half of 2016. Since then, it’s dropped to a dismal +1. Matz may have started out dynamite, but has looked pedestrian since the second half of 2016.
Ultimately, I side with the haters. I think the Mets should deal Matz while he still has value. Despite having incredible talent, he may just be one of these guys that battles injuries his whole career, ultimately hindering his development.
If the Mets can deal him for a position of need, it'll bolster our roster to contend in the short term. Trading Matz also takes some pressure off in the long term, as our front office has one less arm to consider for a big contract. Steven Matz could have a successful career, but I think it will have to be in a different uniform.