Series Recap: Let’s Talk About Tyler Matzek

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Colorado Rockies @ Arizona Diamondbacks

Friday-Sunday, August 29-31, 2014 (Series Preview)

The Rockies struck out 27 times on the weekend, managing 6 runs on 22 hits. Meanwhile, the bullpen allowed 6 runs on 7 hits in 6.2 innings. So yeah, it’s pretty clear who to point the finger at for this series loss.

But, really, the name of the game this series was starting pitching.

Since this is a Rockies-centric blog, I’ll direct you to the Game Recaps to read more about what the Diamondbacks starters did. But it’s pertinent to consider the rookie lefthander who took the mound for the Rockies on Saturday night (especially considering it was pretty much the lone bright spot of the weekend).  All Tyler Matzek did was pitch one of the best games of his young career. So what do the Rockies have in this young lefty? A viable rotation member or mere AAAA filler?

What do the Rockies have in Tyler Matzek?

Tyler Matzek has gotten a lot of attention on this site and others this season, starting back in June when Scott Fults argued that Matzek should be next in line for a call up (let’s give credit for his correct prediction). Ever since his illustrious major league debut, I know I’ve been quick to jump on the Matzek analysis, though mostly on the micro level. Perhaps now, after his best start of the season, is as good a time as any to consider Matzek from a more “macro” viewpoint.

Let’s take a big picture view of what Tyler’s done since the All-Star break:

These past 7 starts represent the best and worst we’ve seen out of Matzek this season, from 8 runs in 4 innings at Detroit (Game Score of 10) to his performance on Saturday night (Game Score of 72, tying his career best) which reduced his season ERA by almost half a run. As the season has gone on he has only gotten better and in the past 3 starts he’s put up a 2.18 ERA, allowing hitters a line of .230/.305/.351. What has been behind these great* numbers? There’s a lot we could choose to look at but let’s look deeper at just a few things for now.

Looking at the table above, Tyler tends to have more success when he is inducing more ground balls. As you look at the table you can see that his more successful outings (by hits/runs allowed and by game score) have coincided with games where he is getting more ground balls. This worked out especially well for Tyler in the past two games, in which he was able to erase a lot of traffic by inducing 4 double plays. Furthermore, his overall ground ball percentage is climbing to above-average. This is something that fits in with organizational philosophy as well as Tyler’s mindset since he’s been in the pros. If the positive results come with it, then more power to him.

One major factor in the Rockies decision to take Tyler 11th overall in the 2009 Amateur Draft was his ability to get the ball past hitters. His minor league strikeout rates started out very high before experiencing a drop in Double-A Tulsa. Since he’s been called up Matzek has proceeded to post his lowest K/9 since that season in Tulsa. This is to be expected, as there is usually an adjustment period for pitchers (fellow lefty/pitching role model put up his lowest K/9 in his rookie season as well). It has started to climb in recent starts for Tyler as he is generating more swinging strikes (StS) and, by extension, more strikeouts. This is important, as missing bats tends to be one of the more reliable ways to gauge how well a pitcher will do going forward. His strike percentage is hovering around 62%, which isn’t bad by any means, but could be better (maybe if he’d get a few more calls it would help).

Where can he improve most? Probably throwing first pitch strikes.

Date First-Pitch Strike Batters Faced F-Strike%
Aug 8 @ AZ 16 26 61.5%
Aug 13 @ SF 17 28 60.7%
Aug 19 v KC 13 28 42.9%
Aug 25 @ SD 16 28 57.1%
Aug 30 @ AZ 13 28 58.3%
Season Total 55.8%
League Avg 59%

His numbers are certainly improving, which shows me that he is certainly capable of improving–but this is easier said than done.  If he can do better getting ahead of hitters–even up to a league average rate–he would likely see his walks decrease, which would decrease the number of pitches he needs to throw which would help him go deeper into games. When you consider how his ground ball rates are increasing as well, it’s not difficult to project some improvement in his overall game were he to improve at throwing Strike One.

It’s also worth noting that Tyler has only started 2 games at Coors Field since the All-Star Break. He managed to pitch quite well in those game (against contending teams, no less) and so it will be interesting to see how he does in September, when 3 of his 5 remaining starts are projected to come at home. Does he have the Aptitude for Altitude like Jorge De La Rosa, or is it a fluke? Consider this a legitimate reason to watch Rockies baseball in September. It will also be interesting to see if he keeps getting squeezed by the umpires to such an extreme degree.

Tyler Matzek has been, to this point in the season, almost the exact definition of a league average pitcher (his park-adjusted FIP- sits at 99). Don’t underestimate the value of a league-average pitcher; Rockies fans have seen more than their fair share of below-average pitching this season. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Tyler Matzek is he is only 23 years old, and so he has a lot of room to grow and mature as a pitcher. Whether or not he reaches his draft-day ceiling remains to be seen (though I’m not holding my breath), but, if nothing else, Tyler Matzek has proven that he belongs and deserves a shot at trying to achieve that ceiling.

*Great for Rockies, not necessarily Kershawian great

Game Recaps

Friday night gave fans a taste of what was to come this weekend, as Christian Bergman of the Rockies and Josh Collmenter of the Diamondbacks had a bit of a pitchers duel. Bergman (who, if you take out his ugly 3 innings against the Brewers on June 20th, holds a 3.80 ERA) successfully pitched around traffic all night. He set career bests in hits allowed (2), runs allowed (1) and strikeouts (5). Unfortunately, he also walked a career high 5 batters, bringing his pitch count up to 95 in the middle of the 5th inning. After 5.1 innings pitched, he gave way to the bullpen.

Collmenter came into this game having given up 8 runs in 12 innings pitched against the Rockies this season. All he did on Friday was face the minimum number of Rockies through 6 innings. After a Drew Stubbs 1-out single in the 7th, the Arizona bullpen took over only to allow a Nolan Arenado RBI double, which closed the book on an excellent outing from Collmenter: 6.1 IP, 1 R/ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 5 K on just 81 pitches. The Rockies tacked on a run in the top of the 8th before disaster–a.k.a. 2014 Rex Brothers–struck.

Brothers allowed 3 straight walks before giving way to Adam Ottavino. He managed to get the first batter he faced, Mark Trumbo, to tap a comebacker back to him–routine double play, right? Alas, Ottavino couldn’t get a grip on the ball and could only get the force out at home. Why is this important? He got the next batter, Miguel Montero to strike out. Instead of the end of the inning, DBacks rookie Jake Lamb came up and blasted a 427′ grand slam to center, making it 5-2 Diamondbacks, which turned out to be the final.

Saturday was all about the teal & purple for the Diamondbacks as they celebrated their 2001 World Series Championship (consider this your regular reminder that the Diamondbacks, a team 5 years younger than the Rockies and equally as terrible right now, have a World Series trophy on their mantel). Apparently wearing purple was bad for offences on this night. After giving up a solo home run to Matt McBride in the top of the second, Diamondbacks starter Vidal Nuno retired 20 Rockies in a row, striking out 7 in his 8 innings pitched. Alas, his opposite Tyler Matzek was just as dominant, scattering 3 hits and 3 walks, not allowing a runner past 2nd base in 7 innings. Charlie Blackmon added a “splash hit” into the pool in the 9th. Latroy Hawkins pitched around some trouble to close out the game in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Rockies the 2-0 victory.

The rubber match of the series was not as fun for Rockies starting pitching. Jorge De La Rosa, Ace of the Staff, allowed the Diamondbacks to strike quickly in the first and add a run (off the bat of Jordan Pacheco–#ThatsSoRockies) in the third. After that he didn’t allow a runner to reach 2nd base until the 7th inning. Nolan Reimold came off the bench to hit a 2-run pinch hit home run to give the Dbacks a 4-1 lead. This closed the book on Jorge, who allowed the most runs he’s given up since–his last outing in Arizona on August 9th (6 IP, 4 R/ER). Matt Belisle came in and allowed two more runs in the inning.

This was more than enough for their starter, Chase Anderson who continued his run of good fortune against the Rockies. He threw 6 innings on just 86-pitches, allowing 5 hits, no walks and 8 strikeouts. The bullpen held up this time, allowing just a 9th inning sac fly before retiring the side to make it a 6-2 victory for the Dbacks.

Looking Ahead

Colorado Rockies Record: 54-82

Games Behind, NL West: 22.5  (First Place: Los Angeles Dodgers)

Games Behind, NL Wild Card: 19 (Leaders: St Louis Cardinals/Milwaukee Brewers, San Francisco Giants)

Run Differential: -85

ESPN Playoff Odds: 0.1% (<— Now I just want to know when this will go to 0.0)

Games Remaining: 26

Next Series: 3 1/2 games vs San Francisco Giants (74-62, 2nd place NL West, 2.5 games behind Los Angeles Dodgers)

Guess what, lucky baseball fan observing Labor Day? You get a free extra half-game of Rockies baseball to watch! Feel free to pretend, while you’re watching, that the Rockies are still 26-21 (their record at the time of the suspended game) and Cargo, Tulo, Cuddy, and Rosario were all mysteriously removed (but not for injury, since they weren’t hurt at the time). I highly recommend this self-delusion, since between the conclusion of that game and the start of the regularly scheduled game the Rockies will somehow go 28-61 (gosh, those numbers are real…woof).

About Adam Peterson

Born and raised in Denver, I stopped playing baseball in high school due to a lack of what some would call “talent,” but then my passion for the game, and the Rockies, only grew. I went to the University of Colorado at Boulder to study Civil Engineering, where I picked up a minor in Applied Statistics. After college I took a job in suburban Memphis, over 1,100 miles away from Coors Field. While my Rockies-loving wife and I enjoy spending time out and about in Memphis, any free time spent not doing something baseball-related is a rare moment indeed.
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