2017 will be long remembered as the year anyone and everyone in a Mets uniform got injured, and Steven Matz is no exception. In fact, he was one of the first in a long line of injured Mets.
The talent was always there for the lefty, but injuries have consistently gotten in his way. He was drafted in the second round back in 2009, but a myriad of arm injuries delayed his development. Despite this, his talent shown through. His first full season, 2016, saw him post a 3.40 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 2.8 fWAR, and 3.93 DRA (deserved run average) in 22 starts, all very good numbers.
Due to that 2016 performance and his solid, but short, debut in 2015, Matz was penciled in as an integral part of the 2017 rotation. However, his season was interrupted before it could even start. Matz’s woes began in spring training, where a bout of elbow soreness caused him to miss one of his starts. It only got worse from there. He ended up starting the season on the 10-day DL with a flexor strain. This caused some friction between the Mets and Matz, as Mets doctors claimed they found nothing wrong with Matz elbow and were taken aback by his revelation of a flexor strain. This miscommunication on the injury front would prove to be a harbinger of things to come for the 2017 Mets.
Matz ended up missing the first two months of the season, and was activated on June 9. He ended up making 13 starts after being activated in early June, and he struggled mightily in those appearances.
Matz went 2-7 over those 13 starts, with a 6.08 ERA and 0.4 fWAR, and he was every bit as bad as that sounds according to his underlying numbers. His FIP came in at 5.05, and his DRA came in at 5.55. His strikeout rate dipped to 16.1% after sitting at 22.8% in 2015 and 23.6% in 2016.
One of the biggest reasons why he struggled so mightily was his pitch selection. He hardly used his slider, throwing it only 4.2% of the time after throwing it 10.4% of the time the year before. He became primarily a sinker/change-up pitcher. He threw his sinker 59.1% of the time, and his change came in a 13.4%. That is 72.5% of his pitches being sinkers or change-ups, and that is nearly an impossible thing for a starter to rely on, as his season showed.
Due to his predictability, batters began teeing off on Matz. He hardly missed any bats, as his swinging strike rate of 7.1%—which would be fifth lowest among all qualified starters—showed. He simply was not good.
But there was not much Matz could do about it. On August 22, it was revealed that he would undergo season-ending surgery on his left elbow. He was diagnosed with irritation of the ulnar nerve, the same injury Jacob deGrom had roughly a year earlier. The discomfort in his elbow never went away from spring training, and this was the culprit. Due to that discomfort, it was likely impossible for him to throw his slider, which simply hurt too much.
While having any elbow surgery for a pitcher is bad, this is likely one of the easier-to-handle outcomes for Matz. deGrom came back fine from this surgery, and it is not on the same scale as Tommy John or Thoracic Outlet. However, this is another injury in a long line of injuries for the 26-year-old Matz. He is likely to be ready for spring training, but it is impossible for us or the Mets or Matz himself to know how he will pitch and how long before he gets hurt again.
While Matz is obviously very likely to begin the 2018 season with the Mets, due his to his lengthy injury history, there is no reason to rely on him as a key piece in the team’s starting rotation going forward. The talent has been there for Matz, but the health has not.