If we were to come up with a title to describe Brian Matusz’ season in 2010 it would probably be “A Tale of Two Brian’s.” Much has been made of Matusz’ stark turn around when Orioles manager Buck Showalter took over. Pre-Buck, Matusz was 3-11 with a 5.46 ERA. Post-Buck, Matusz dominated with a 7-1 record and a 2.18 ERA. So what made the difference for Matusz? He was wildly inconsistent for almost two-thirds of the Orioles season, but when Showalter took over Matusz went on a run that exceeded most of our expectations. How much credit can we give to Showalter? And more importantly, which Matusz will show up in 2011?
You could argue that Showalter’s mandate that Orioles pitchers be more aggressive inteh strike zone made a huge difference for the 6’5″ lefty. As a highly touted first round pick fromteh University of San Diego, Matusz was known for having a bevy of pitches in his arsenal and as a guy who could command all them. Some felt that his best pitch was his change up. It is often the case that young pitchers, that fall in love with their off-speed offerings have increasing trouble commanding their fastball. Part of Showalter’s message to Matusz may have been that he needs to be able to command his fastball in order to be successful in the big leagues. Confident in what his new skipper was preaching, Matusz improved his fastball command under Showalter. His increased aggression with the fastball made it easier for Matusz to work off that pitch with the rest of his aresenal.
Another key for Matusz in 2011 is to improve on his walk to strike-out ratio. Matusz totalled 143 K’s in ’10, which is a good total for having pitched just over 175 innings. His walk totla of 63 was too high, especially for a guy who relies on command like Matusz. Not that Matusz does not have plus pitches, that will enable him to strike out his fair number of hitters, but he is capable of commanding his stuff better and cutting down the walks. Working off his fastball more should be a big key to him doing so.
Matusz will also be a bit more of a marked man inteh Oriole rotation. He did have a fair amount of hype heading into his rookie year in ’10. In 2011, hitters will be more familiar with Matusz and how he likes to work and he is being billed as the future ace of the Orioles. The increased familiarity will force Matusz to find some new ways to get hitters out, and his top billing will make it less likely that he can fly under opposing teams radar.
What are reasonable expectations for Matusz in terms of numbers this year? Wins and losses can be an arbitrary way to evaluate a pitchers season. It is assumed that with a better team and offense behind Matusz that he will win more games, but the key stats for Matusz will be ERA, WHIP and innings pitched. If Matusz can keep his ERA int eh 3.5 range he should win a lot of game for the Orioles in ’11. Cutting down on his walks will also help him lower his WHIP. His WHIP last year was 1.34. This year he needs to be in the 1.25 range. And as a young arm, the Orioles will not want to overload Matusz with innings, but he should be ready to jump over the 200 IP mark for the first time in his career.