Should Matusz Be Sent To The Minors?

A little more on Matusz… in this morning’s post I mentioned that there’s some talk of sending him back to the minors, as was done with Bergesen and Tillman. I don’t really get it, since Matusz is the team’s best starter and is holding his own just fine in his first full major league season at the age of 23 while facing some of the best hitters in the league (his opponents wOBA is the 7th highest in the league amongst pitchers with at least 75 IP – Guthrie is tops, by the way). There’s no glaring hole in his game that he really needs to work on – as I said, a little bit of improvement in every area (K, BB, and HR, or missing bats, control, and keeping the ball on the ground more) would be sufficient.

Someone asked Juan Samuel after Matusz’s last start about the possibility of sending him down – Samuel laughed it off – and then asked a follow-up question about why Tillman and Bergesen can be sent down but not Matusz (reply: we’re not sending him down). I thought it was a pretty dumb question, since Brian is pretty obviously a better pitcher than either of those guys. The writer who asked the questions – Stan “The Fan” Charles from PressBoxOnlins – has a post up today about it.

It’s called Matusz: Out of His League. The evidence for that claim is the following:

“Point of pure numerical facts, he’s been just short of awful. In 27 big league starts, Matusz is 8-12 with a career ERA of 5.05 in 149 2/3 innings. His Whip (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) is a not-so-impressive 1.49. And while his 123 K’s against 54 walks is not horrible, it clearly is indicative of a problem.”

Won-loss record and ERA are obviously not good measures of how a pitcher has done in just 27 starts – they depend way too much on run support, defense, the bullpen and luck. The 1.49 WHIP* is high but most of that is all the hits he’s allowed (1.11 hits per inning pitched), and that’s based on a .332 Batting Average On Balls In Play that isn’t likely to continue at that level and has less to do with Matusz’s pitching than his defense and poor luck. Additionally, I’m not sure how a 123:54 strike-out to walk ratio is “clearly indicative of a problem”. At 2.27, it’s better than league average (~2.07), and his individual K and BB rates are also better than average. You can argue that they’ve gotten worse this year, but they’re still in decent territory (and Charles doesn’t do that).

* I’ve never seen it shown as Whip. I don’t know why you’d do that, since a whip is a thing and WHIP is a different thing. If you said a pitcher had a high Era that would be confusing. Just a small stylistic quibble, and I wouldn’t even mention it except I’m already criticizing the article.

So while his numerical facts are, surely, facts, the opinions he attaches to them are somewhere between not right and wrong. Matusz has not been awful – not even close. Not good, not not awful.

“In fact, the first time he has not made it out of the second inning, and the fifth time this season he has allowed at least six earned runs in a game. And there was one more game in which he allowed four earned runs in three innings.”

Man, you know who gave up at least 6 runs in five starts last year, plus 5 a couple times (Matusz hasn’t given up 5 runs in a game this year)? Cole Hamels. That left-handed bum with his good change-up, 90 mph fastball, and complementary curve. Send that guy to the minors. (Yes, Hamels has more K’s and fewer walks, but he pitches in the NL and doesn’t have to face the Phillies line-up while Matusz pitches in the AL East and doesn’t get to carve up the O’s. Note: I’m not saying Matusz is as good as or better than Hamels.)

Matusz did indeed have too poor starts in a row, in which he walked a lot of batters and had a drop in velocity. Will he pick up a couple mph on his fastball by riding around on the buses in Triple-A?

“So, when a reporter asks the young lefty if he is confident he can make these adjustments he kept talking about, he bristles a bit (although, not at all like an Eric Bedard bristle) at the notion and points to this good outing or that other good outing. He stands his ground to this reporter, not in an arrogant or rude way, rather it’s him in a protecting-his-turf kind of way.”

It’s Erik, not Eric. Sure people make mistakes – I spell stuff wrong all the time – but Bedard only pitched here for five years. Also, using personality or media relations as part of the argument at all is weak.

Then there’s the part about why Bergesen and Tillman can get sent down but Matusz can’t. How is that relevant? Because they’re all young?

Matusz: 4.43 FIP, 4.74 xFIP
Bergesen: 5.59 FIP, 5.39 xFIP
Tillman: 5.40 FIP, 5.42 xFIP

There’s no way you Matusz deserves to be sent down while Bergy and Tillman keep working in the majors. It doesn’t make any sense to relate them – if you’re coming from a performance angle. The latter two have been at or below replacement level, while Matusz is at (a staff leading) 1.2 Wins Above Replacement.

“Before July 18’s 10-1 blow-out where Matusz was torched and gave up the first career HR to Yunel Escobar (The Grand Salami), I was talking to a veteran scout about the Orioles, almost player-by-player, and when we got to Matusz, he said rather assuredly, “If they don’t send him to the minors now to work on some things, he’ll be in the minors at some point next year.””

First off, it was Escobar’s first home run of the season – not is career. He hit 14 last year and 10 the year before, plus added his second of 2010 last night. Cesar Izturis had just 16 career home runs when he took Cliff Lee deep – maybe Texas should send Lee down to Triple-A.

Then we’ve got an argument from authority, and nothing else. The scout is a “veteran” and made his statement “rather assuredly”, so that means he’s right. What are these “things” that Matusz needs to work on in the minors now? Why will keeping him in the big leagues result in his getting sent down next year? I’ve heard scouts say (or, to be more precise, seen reports of scouts saying) that Matusz has nothing left to learn in the minors, since his off-speed stuff and pitchability are so advanced. Why are they wrong and this scout is right?

(I’ll note two things: (1) the scout is not necessarily wrong, but there’s not a lot of reason to trust him based on what he said, and (2) by virtue of being a pitcher, there’s a fair chance that Matusz will get injured next year and have at least one rehab start in the minors, which would make him technically correct.)

The big finish:

“It’s clear Matusz is a talent. But, it’s just as clear he needs to finish his classes on pitching in a league not quite at this level. That would be the correct long-range thing to do for him and more importantly for the Baltimore Orioles.”

No problems with the first point. The second though, is not even remotely clear. Charles makes a poor argument using lackluster evidence to justify something he seems sure of. I didn’t give the article the full FJM treatment, but it was still not very good.

I guess this is what CSN gets for sending me an email saying that they’ve started up CSN Baltimore, by the way. Don’t take this as a review of the entire product though.

Edit: I’ll also note some irony, in that Charles has another post, about Josh Bell, saying that he should be playing every day in the majors (as long as Wieters is out) even though he (1) has struck out in 8 of his 19 ML at bats, (2) didn’t light things up in Triple-A, and (3) still legitimately has specific things to work on in the minors (defense, hitting right-handed, plate discipline). I get playing Bell if he’s up here, but he shouldn’t be up here in the first place. Not yet anyway. Charles even throws in the line “but sometimes a baby bird has to fly”. Unless of course Stan doesn’t want him to fly, in which case he shouldn’t.