Friend of the Program and BSRN “sister-wife” Matt Sroka wrote a blog post making the case for Brian Matusz to get another chance as a starter. Per usual, it was well written and well thought out – Matt knows his stuff, but I think he’s wrong on this one. So with that, let me make the case against inserting Matusz back into the starting rotation.
What’s wrong with Brian Matusz starting next April?
Let’s not be victims of revisionist history: there is a reason he’s not starting already. Matusz wasn’t treated unfairly – in fact, he was given every chance to succeed. Matusz was drafted #4 overall, and was expected to become a top-of-the-rotation starter. After a decent 8 starts in 2009, Matusz racked up a 21-33 record in 68 major league starts. His 2011 campaign was historically bad, and in the magical 2012 season, Matusz was demoted to AAA, after going 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA over 16 starts.
Matusz has not proven himself as a starter. Not a good one, and certainly not one that should pitch for a contender.
Matusz embraced his role as a left-handed bullpen specialist (probably because it beats the bus rides in AAA). And he’s good at it. Really good at it. Since joining the ‘pen, Matusz has stranded 46 of 51 inherited runners. His WHIP dropped from 1.56 to 1.04 as a reliever. Need more proof? Watch any at-bat in which he faced David Ortiz.
This is not a matter of cherry-picking stats to make a point. Looking at his performance in late 2012 and 2013, you can’t deny that pulling him from the bullpen would leave a hole to be filled.
Matt’s argument included increased velocity. Short appearances will do that. When you’re being asked to put out one or three hitters, you can reach back for the heat – you can remain at maximum effort for the entire outing. Just ask Tommy Hunter. If you’re expected to go 7 innings and not get shellacked, you can’t depend on that. You can’t cheat.
The real argument against putting Matusz back in a starting role is that his splits are ghastly. He held lefties to a .163 average in 2013, but allowed an average of .302 to righties. That number is not an outlier – righties have totaled a .305 BA against Matusz over his career.
In short, Matusz has excelled as a reliever because he has the tools to succeed at the major league level in certain situations, and pitching out of the bullpen allows him to appear only in those certain situations. Starting him would expose his warts, and cost the Orioles games.
If this was the 1998-2011 Dark Period, this issue would get a “meh” from me. I’d be very content to play Starting Rotation Roulette – hoping that Matusz managed to right himself, while simply trying to avoid being the laughing stock of Major League Baseball. Those days are over. The Orioles don’t have the luxury of allowing proven lost causes to prove it again.
The Orioles have won 93 and 85 games in the last two years, and have career prime windows of players like Davis, Jones, and Wieters to consider. For the first time in a long time, the Birds have the chance to be legitimate playoff contenders. in order to achieve that goal, they need to leave the bullpen strengths where they are, and acquire starters that they can depend upon for quality starts.
Like similar arguments that Jim Johnson should have returned to starting so that the Orioles could get the proper value from him based on his salary, and plug a gaping hole in the starting rotation… changing Matusz’s role doesn’t make sense. That boat has sailed.
I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I don’t like Brian Matusz, or that I think his contributions in the bullpen are minimal. On the contrary. Watching the Orioles come up just short in the 2012 ALDS, I want an arm I can trust like Matusz to come into the game in high stress situations, and be effective. I would simply like there to be good starting pitching in front of him.