New York Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz gave up seven runs in 1 2/3 innings in his first start of the season against the Marlins, leaving some wondering if he’d be as good in 2016 as he was in a brief look in 2015.
He’s been much more than as good as he was. He’s been better, far better.
Matz’s eight scoreless innings against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday gave him four starts with at least six scoreless innings this season. That matches arguably the two best pitchers in baseball – Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta - for the major-league lead.
Since allowing those seven runs, Matz has yielded six runs … in 48 innings. His ERA has dropped from 37.80 to its current 2.32. The eight innings against the Nationals marked the longest start of his career.
Matz also became the second pitcher in Mets history to win seven straight starts, allowing two earned runs or fewer in each. The only other pitcher to do that is the best pitcher in Mets history, Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver, who ran off seven straight wins in the championship 1969 season.
Matz is 11-1 for his career, including 7-1 this season. He has seven wins in the team’s first 46 games. He’s already halfway to the win total of the Mets team leaders in wins last season (Bartolo Colon and Jacob deGrom) less than 30 percent of the way through the season.
How he’s winning
First and foremost, Matz is winning because he limits hard contact. He’s allowing a hard-hit ball (determined by video review) in 8.3 percent of at-bats, a rate bettered by only teammate Noah Syndergaard (7.7 percent and Clayton Kershaw (8.0 percent). Matz’s ground-ball rate is nearly 59 percent, fifth-lowest among starters who have qualified for the ERA title.
Matz isn’t overpowering, but he throws four pitches well. He has a strike rate of 66 percent or better with his fastball, changeup, curveball and slider.
As was noted on the Mets game telecast today, Matz has shied away from his slider a little bit the last two starts to avoid the strain it was causing his elbow. He threw five two starts ago against the Brewers and then 13 against the Nationals.
Matz favored his fastball Wednesday, throwing it 65 percent of the time, his second-highest usage rate this season.
Nationals hitters went 2-for-14 against it, with only one ball that rated as hard-hit (and seven that were soft hit).
Matz has also caught a couple of breaks along the way. Wednesday he got three called strikeouts on borderline pitches, on which the strike probabilities (based on pitch count and location) were 19 percent, 19 percent and 13 percent. He's one of two pitchers (along with David Price) to get three such strikeouts in a game this season. Matz has a higher rate of called strikes above average than any other Mets pitcher (18th-best in the majors), which may be a credit to the work of catchers Travis d’Arnaud, Kevin Plawecki and Rene Rivera
On a broader scale, opponents are 10-for-22 when hitting a line drive against him. The average major-league pitcher gives up a .700 batting average on his line drives (the Nationals were 2-for-3 on Wednesday).