#2 on my list for 2019 breakout candidates is none other than left-handed starting pitcher Steven Matz.
2018 was a step in the right direction for Steven. After missing significant time in 2015, 2016 and 2017, 2018 was the first season in his career he made 30 starts, and he pitched to a respectable 3.97 ERA. Steven also had a career-best strikeout rate at 8.88 strikeouts per nine innings.
However, there are some things to be concerned about when looking back at Steven’s 2018 season. Despite a 3.97 ERA, Matz had a high 4.62 FIP. He posted a career-worst BB/9 at 3.39. His HR/9 (1.46) and HR/FB (16.6%) were below average. Despite making 30 starts, Matz only threw 154 innings, averaging a little more than 5 innings per start. Matz also fell off a bit in the second half, posting a 4.46 ERA in the second half compared to a 3.59 ERA in the first half.
A positive for Matz is his velocity rebounded in 2018 after dipping a bit in an injury-riddled 2017 season. Here’s a comparison (per fangraphs):
vSI: 93.5 MPH vSI: 94 MPH
vCH: 84 MPH vCH: 84.7 MPH
vSL: 86.1 MPH vSL: 88.8 MPH
vCU: 78.7 MPH vCU: 79.1 MPH
As you can see every pitch saw a boost in velocity, the most notable being Matz’s slider being almost 3 MPH faster.
Another positive, and maybe the biggest positive is after Matz really struggled in July and the beginning of August, he finished the season strong over his final 8 starts. Over Matz’s final 8 starts (44.1 IP) Matz posted a 2.44 ERA 3.77 FIP 10.4 K/9 3.2 BB/9 1.2 HR/9 and a .167 BA against/.579 OPS against.
The key for Matz in 2019 is to take the final 8 starts in 2018 and take it into 2019. He needs to stay healthy for the second season in a row, make another 30 starts and go deeper into games. Steven has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter, 2019 may be the season we see it all come together.