Tyler Matzek – Deep League Sleeper

Tyler Matzek’s 2014 is why teams are so reluctant to ever give up on a guy, especially if he’s left-handed. It was a grim outlook for Matzek. Like, really, really, really grim. His minor league numbers in total have him with a 4.33 ERA which isn’t the worst, but then you keep looking and your ipecac-fueled vomit-fest starts to kick in with a 1.58 WHIP and impossibly-high 15 percent walk rate in 549.3 innings. And most of that was done before even getting to Triple-A.

The former blue-chip prospect (twice a top 35 prospect at Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America) had a 21 percent walk rate in 97 innings back in 2011. Again, he had a TWENTY-ONE PERCENT WALK RATE in a real amount of innings. That was on the heels of being ranked 34th and 32nd at the two outlets in the preseason.

When you come from those depths, an 8.8 percent walk rate is seen as good even though it’s a far cry from the 7.1 percent the league’s starters put up as a whole. One thing I liked about Matzek’s season as it related to his walks was that he did have some games were the control was sharp. He had a pair of zero-walk games and four others with just one. On the other end, he did have a trio of four-walk games and a season-high five against Arizona, but at least it wasn’t two or three every single game.

The key for guys like Matzek who walk entirely too many batters is of course the first-pitch strike. His FPS rate of 58.3 percent is well below the 61 percent league average (it might not feel like at 2.7 percentage points, but it is a tight band in that middle class so every percentage point is huge). Matzek closed with a bang that included six quality starts over his final seven and was just two outs away from making it 7-of-7.

Unsurprisingly, he saw his FPS rate shoot up during that run. In his first 13 outing (12 starts, 1 relief app.), he was down at 56.1 percent (a figure that would have ranked seventh-worst in baseball among qualified starters), but then he jumped to 62 percent for those last seven.

It was actually his secondary pitches that fueled the surge:

Pitch

First 13 FPS F13 Usage Last 7 FPS L7 Usage

FB

59% 71% 57%

58%

SL

51% 13% 68% 30%
CB 48% 10% 100%

1%

CH 53% 6% 70%

12%

The slider became a first-pitch gem and the changeup took a massive jump, too. Only four pitches threw more first-pitch sliders in that span and only one bested Matzek’s FPS rate (usage with FPS rate): Wily Peralta (34%, 61%), Collin McHugh (34%, 65%), Corey Kluber (32%, 76%), and Dan Haren (31%, 61%).

Matzek’s slider became disgustingly good during those final seven starts and not just in first-pitch usage. Looking at it as a whole over those final 47.3 innings, it yielded a triple slash of .088/.127/.132 with a 43.7 percent strikeout rate and 10.3 K:BB ratio in 71 PA. Only two guys beat the .259 OPS (Sonny Gray .225 in 41 PA, Kyle Lobstein .250 in 36 PA), but Matzek nearly topped their combined PA so his rate is more impressive.

There is still plenty of work to be done for the 24-year old, but he took incredible leaps forward in 2014. This train had jumped the track and he found a way to get back on it. The secondary stuff was especially impressive, but for him to really become someone we are interested in using on a regular basis – and fair or not, his bar is higher because of his home park – the fastball needs to take a massive step forward, and perhaps even two.

His 1.003 OPS off the fastball in 277 PA was baseball’s worst among the 114 pitchers with at least 275 PA ending on the pitch. That isn’t going to work as-is, but I imagine he is well aware of its performance and ideally he spent his offseason figuring out how to better it.

I’m interested in him as a late-round $1 guy in deeper league formats or as a watch list guy at the very least. Matzek is someone for whom Spring Training can have some use as we can see if the fastball command has improved at all. There are no guarantees that the Rockies will be televised on MLB Network when he throws so we will have to hope that he is written about as we can’t just look at the ST numbers as a judge.





Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Jake Shapiro
Guest

“His 1.003 OPS off the fastball in 277 PA was baseball’s worst among the 114 pitchers with at least 275 PA ending on the pitch.”

Does this mean in all counts? The “ending on the pitch” part mixed me up.