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Health is the only thing standing between Steven Matz and success in 2017

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The Long Island native needs to find a way to stay on the field.

Colorado Rockies v New York Mets Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

There is no question that Steven Matz has everything it takes to be one of the top-tier pitchers in baseball right now. Pumping a sinker that can reach 96 MPH from the left side and supplementing that with a newly-minted Warthen slider, along with two more solid offerings in his curveball and changeup, he has the repertoire.

He has the control, too, with his 5.7 BB% in 2016 being better than that of both Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. That, paired with his above-average strikeout rate, led to a strong of 17.9% K-BB rate, which ranked 18th in baseball among pitchers with a minimum of 130 innings pitched.

Matz also limits contact authority, and lives off ground balls. He had the 18th-best ground ball rate in baseball and coupled that with the eighth-best soft contact percentage, again among the sample size of pitchers with 130 innings. This has allowed him to largely avoid the home run ball thus far.

Put all of that together, and it’s no wonder how his park-adjusted FIP and xFIPs were 16th and eighth, respectively, among those pitchers with at least 130 innings pitched last year. But the need to put those innings requirements on all these numbers is the problem. Matz has eclipsed 150 innings pitched just once in a professional season, and that included his innings in the playoffs. As we know, the southpaw has quite a lengthy injury history that dates back to the beginning of his professional career. Tommy John surgery in 2010 took out two years of his career. Then, after arriving in the big leagues in 2015, he missed two months with a lat injury, and his 2016 season ended in August after he suffered a shoulder strain. He also underwent surgery this offseason to remove a large bone spur, which had caused him to stop throwing his slider as much mid-season to help manage his pain.

And now, Matz is going to miss at least the start of 2017 due to elbow irritation. It seems like it could be a minor issue—there is no structural damage—although he’s been shut down for three weeks now. But, like any arm injury, it could become a more substantial issue as the season goes on.

When Matz is on the field this year, it’s fair to expect the 25-year-old to be one of the better left-handed pitchers in the league. That said, being able to get on the field is Matz’s main obstacle remaining to being the pitcher than he can be. With the amount of injury potential in their starting rotation, the Mets need Matz to be healthy this year to help their chances in competing for the NL East crown.