Revisiting Tyler Matzek

Tyler Matzek

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September is here. We should be talking about playoff races and all the fun stuff contending teams have to think about at this point of the season. Instead, I’ll use these pages to point out a hard-to-see silver lining amidst the huge cloud of bad baseball that has been this 2014 season for our guys in purple.

About two months ago, Scott Fults wrote an interesting piece here at Rockies Zingers, about a young left-handed pitcher by the name of Tyler Matzek. The article talks, among other things, about Matzek’s known struggles with command, and his slow but steady improvement in the past couple of years in this regard. It mentions the benefit of Matzek’s young age, suggesting physical maturation, combined with the effort put on reducing walks and his already existing strikeout ability, could result in him being a contributing part in the Big-League team. This was written a week before his impressive Major-League debut in which he allowed just 2 runs in 7.0 innings, striking out 7 and walking none, so kudos to Scott for kind of seeing that coming.

After 15 starts and one relief appearance in the majors, we’re starting to see some of that potential pan out, and it’s been encouraging to watch, if you really know what to look for.

A 4-9 record with a 4.75 ERA is not exactly something to be excited about. Then again, that’s why I prefer using advanced metrics instead of classic stats. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe results are important in the real world (you can’t build a winning team with a 5.00 ERA), but if we’re trying to evaluate a young pitcher’s development, we’re better off looking at peripheral stats, rather than actual, tangible results.

So far, Matzek owns a 4.26 FIP as a Rockie, which is actually 1% better than average after adjusting for park and league. In case you don’t know what FIP is, it’s an ERA-scaled stat that is calculated using only strikeouts, walks, homeruns and hit-by-pitchs. For most pitchers, FIP and ERA are pretty close, so why are they so far apart in this particular case? Well, you could argue Matzek has been unlucky on his first season as big-leaguer.

The usual and quickest measuring stick for luckiness, or lack thereof, is average on balls in play or BABIP. As a rule of thumb, everything south of .290 is considered “lucky”, and is bound to regress towards league average, which is around .295. The opposite applies to values over .300, which is Matzek’s case this year. His BABIP in the majors stands at .314, almost 20 points over the league average, and 10 points over the Rockies’ Pitching Staff as a whole. Lowering his BABIP to somewhere near .300 should go a long way towards decreasing his ERA.

Another indication of good or bad luck is the percentage of stranded runners or LOB%. League average usually revolves around 73%, so anything less than that is considered “unlucky”. Our young lefty owns a 71.3% LOB percentage in his short Major League career, which is actually not that far from league average, but further suggests he hasn’t been all that lucky.

Matzek's roughest outing of the season, courtesy of the Detroit Tigers (AP)

Matzek’s roughest outing of the season, courtesy of the Detroit Tigers (AP)

Aside from the unlucky argument, there are a number of takeaways from Tyler Matzek’s performance in a Rockies uniform so far. The first one is a trend that Scott mentioned in his piece, and has continued during his time in the Big Show: his command is getting better. He’s issuing free passes at a professional-career-low rate of 3.46 per 9 innings. That is not spectacular, by any means, but considering the fact that his minor league career mark was 6.0 BB/9, it’s a major step forward. There is a small warning sign in this regard however; his monthly BB/9 is steadily rising since arriving at the major league level. It has gone from 2.31 in June, to 3.38 in July, to 4.29 in August. It could be just natural fluctuation, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

The second takeaway comes as a result of the first one. By giving up less walks, he’s been able to keep down his pitch counts, thus allowing him to pitch deeper into games. In 15 starts, he’s averaged 6.02 innings, the highest mark of his professional career. Not only that, it’s also the highest average among Rockies starting pitchers this year!! That’s actually more telling on the Rockies’ starters bad performance, than on Matzek’s abilities, considering the fact that league average this year is at 5.99 innings per start. Nonetheless, it’s a good indication of his progress as a starting pitcher.

The third relevant aspect of Tyler Matzek’s performance with the big club is his rising strikeout rate. Throughout his minor league career, he had above average strikeout ability, as shown by his 8.5 K/9 rate. As of today, his 6.33 K/9 with the Rockies is far below league average. However, he seems to be slowly figuring out how to strike batters out in the big-league level. His monthly splits of 4.63, 6.47, and 7.32 for June, July, and August, respectively, seem to support this idea.

His batted ball data has also had an interesting development through his first three months in the majors. The following table shows batted ball type percentages by month.

Month

LD%

GB%

FB%

June

22.50%

42.50%

35.00%

July

20.40%

48.00%

31.60%

August

15.70%

56.50%

27.80%

Flyballs are the easiest outs in terms of batting average, but they also turn into homeruns around 10% of the time. Line-drives are mostly hits, so that leaves us with groundballs as the least harmful type of batted ball. Matzek’s line-drive percentage has declined every month, while his groundball percentage has done the exact opposite. It’s a real shame that Fangraphs does not offer monthly splits for pitch-type percentages, but I strongly suspect the change in batted ball data comes from the last and my personal favorite takeaway from Matzek’s first three months: he has thrown a very effective slider.

His slider has been worth 2.60 runs per 100 pitches when pitching as a starter, according to Fangraphs. That ranks him 5th among 70 starters who have thrown the pitch at least 15% of the time, and have at least 50 innings pitched.  It has had an average vertical movement of -1.8 feet, according to PITCHf/x. That’s a lot of downward movement for a slider; it also ranks him 5th among that same group of 70 starters. Downward movement on sliders has had a strong correlation with success for Rockies pitchers historically, if you want to dig deeper into that, go to this piece I posted back in April.

Not surprisingly, the slider has been by far Matzek’s best pitch this season. He’s induced more ground balls, allowed less line-drives, and generated more swinging strikes, just to name a few. Take a look at this table showing some of these values, compared to his other pitches.

Pitch

Pitches

LD%

GB%

SwStr%

K%

OPS

wRC+

Fastball

899

22.70%

49.00%

3.70%

6.50%

.992

176

Slider

352

17.70%

61.30%

17.60%

38.40%

.414

25

Curveball

94

26.30%

42.10%

7.50%

20.80%

.833

139

Change-up

37

37.50%

50.00%

8.10%

0.00%

.425

48

The only thing I don’t like about his slider is the number of times he’s thrown it. He needs to throw it more. We need him to throw it more. And it’s not such a crazy thing to ask for; Madison Bumgarner throws it 36% of the time. The only other pitch that’s been somewhat near in effectiveness for Matzek is his change-up, but he’s thrown it even less than the slider. The swinging strike percentage (SwStrk%) on his slider is not even close to the rest of his pitches, as is his strikeout percentage. It’s been, clearly, his out pitch, as shown by his very low wRC+ for the pitch. wRC+ is a stat that uses weighted averages of run values for every batting event such as singles, HRs, walks, or outs, and after adjusting for park and league, it compares a certain player with league average. Matzek slider’s wRC+ of 25, means batters have fared 75% worse against his slider than against the average pitch in the league.

It’s hard to draw conclusions after just 15 starts, but there’s been enough evidence for me to be carefully optimistic about him. He certainly has the pedigree of a top prospect, and has the opportunity to keep working on his game at the major league level, thanks to a disastrous season for the Rockies. With lefty Jorge De La Rosa probably going elsewhere after this season, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Tyler Matzek as a part of the starting rotation come Opening Day 2015.

About Juan Pablo Zubillaga

Venezuelan die-hard Colorado Rockies fan. In addition to watching and analyzing as much baseball as I can, I'm also a Chemical Engineer // Venezolano, fanático de los Colorado Rockies. Además de ver y analizar la mayor cantidad de béisbol posible, también soy Ingeniero Químico.

3 thoughts on “Revisiting Tyler Matzek

  1. First of all, it’s great to see your name gracing these pages again. Welcome back! Second of all, great piece. At the very least, Matzek has earned a rotation spot next year. I look forward to learning more about him. Lastly, here is his slider usage by month:

    Four starts in June, he threw the slider 26.1%
    Six starts in July, 22.8%
    Six starts in August, 29.6%


    1. Thanks Eric!

      So I was kind of right in my suspicion. Hi did throw it more in August, but threw it less in July. I think a 30% overall would be a good number for him.

      By the way, where did you get the info? B-R?



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