Brian Matusz Showing Flashes of Promise

Brian Matusz has a terrible 2011 season. He was hurt, came back with a big drop in his velocity, and ended the year with a 10.69 ERA. Watching him pitch, it was hard to believe he was truly healthy. This year has been a bit of a different story. Though his ERA has been above 5 most of the season, after giving up 13 runs in his first 3 games (14.2 IP), there were reasons to keep the faith – and (yeah, it’s only one game) it paid off yesterday with Matusz’s 6.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 9 K performance against the Red Sox.

Matusz started out averaging 90-91 mph with his fastball (a touch above where he was to end last year) and that’s ticked up to 91-92 his last few games. His command – which has been the main thing holding him back, I think – has improved. He walked 4, 4, and 3 batters to begin the season, but hasn’t allowed more than 2 free passes in a game since. Over the recent 6 game stretch, Matusz is 4-1 with a 3.57 ERA (3.64 FIP), 6.9 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9 – I imagine most people would be quite happy to get that for the rest of the year.

That’s brought his season numbers down to 4.86 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 4.51 xFIP. Matusz isn’t striking out quite as many batters as he used to, but a 6.8 K/9 is solid enough. If he can throw strikes then there should be room for improving his 3.4 BB/9 as well. And more favorable counts could also lead to more strike-outs, if he’s able to use his (still) quality off-speed pitches more effectively (as we saw last night, with Matusz getting 8 whiffs with his slider). The slider is actually a pitch he’s been going to more this year, instead of leaning on the curveball and change-up as much – which is more similar to his usage patterns from his rookie season. It also looks like Matusz is throwing a cutter (more?) this year, which is interesting in between the fastball and slider.

As an extreme flyball pitcher, Matusz is always going to have some issues with home runs. His career BABIP against of .318 is on the high side, but it’s only in 320 IP. Even with those factors, there’s not real reason why Brian Matusz can’t continue to post a 2:1 strike-out to walk ratio (or better) and provide the Orioles with a pretty nice #4/5 starter (assuming Arrieta, Hammel, and Chen are the top 3). He may never turn into the top of the rotation guy some people expected him to be when he first came up, but given the disaster of 2011, I’d certainly take it.