At the beginning of last year, Brian Matusz was a popular sleeper and a candidate to evolve into the next Greg Maddux, mixed with a side of MacGyver and a Dragon from the future. Everyone loves sleepers, as you think you’re the only one who knows what’s up. The funny thing is, everyone thinks like that and also knows that you know. If they know what you know, you should also know that they know that you know. I think my computer just threw up on me.
Well, if you drafted him last year, he sure slapped your face hard. Like the Serbian hooker I found last Tuesday, you walked around with a Matusz looking pink spot on half your face. In fact, I think you still have it. Maybe you want to go check that out with some kind of doctor. And don’t touch me, because that actually looks like a rash.
No one had any real idea what happened. We do know there was an injury to the ribs, without BBQ sauce. Some kind of intercostal strain under the shoulder blade. I’m giving you specifics here because I have no idea when it comes to anything medical. My mother always said she wanted me to be a doctor, so here I am… not a doctor. We also know that he lost a good amount of velocity, most likely due to that rib injury. And despite coming off the DL, he was Charles Barkley turrrible whenever he took the rubber. Matusz had the highest ERA since the McKinley Administration. And for those of you who react to history like I react to asparagus, that was 111 years ago. His BB/9 was 4.35, and his HR rate last year sat an unfashionable 3.26. Let’s think about that for a second… Bronson Arroyo led the league last year in home runs allowed at 46, and even he had a HR rate of just 2.08. After running the numbers in my head, if Matusz started for the entire year, he would have given up 568 home runs.
However, since this is a new year, something about springing eternal hope and dieting comes to mind. Pay little attention to the dieting though, that lasted about two hours… basically until I got hungry. But in terms of hope, some tangible improvement has been made so far. He hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t imploded either. The HR rate has already been cut down more than half, to 1.29. He’s shaved off more than a walk per nine with a rate now sitting at 3.54. While there might be some concern that his K/9 has not gone above 7 for almost two years and his max outing was 6.1 innings, there is still some cause for optimism here. The biggest glimmer of hope lies in the returning velocity. During that shake n bake start against the Red Sox nearly two weeks ago, his fastball sat in the low 90’s. Last season, he struggled to get it into the high 80’s. Because of the increase, his off-speed stuff played. In several at-bats, Big Papi and Agonzo looked completely lost on devastating curveballs, and his slider was working with both command and movement.
One thing to point out here is that I have great looking hair. The other thing, though less important than the status of my great looking hair, is that Matusz appears to be throwing more sliders and cutters than ever before. In 2010, according to PitchFx, only 3.4% of his pitches were of that lovely variety. In Matusz’s year of infamy and kitten genocide, 2011, the usage plummeted to 1.7%. This year, he has thrown a whopping 17.5% of those pitches towards the plate. While his large repertoire has always been a huge positive in his pedigree as a heralded prospect, what can we surmise from this? Well, other than the fact that I enjoy the % sign and like talking about his large repertoire, there appears to be such a noticeable variation from last year and a large enough sample size this year to call this a deliberate new strategy by Brian Matusz and/or his coaching staff. That might have been the easy conclusion for you, but for me, it took some time. Five paragraphs worth of time to be exact.
The Matusz theme this year appears to be this: go with what works. His cutter/slider combination have become effective out-pitches, more so than his change-up, and, to a lesser extent, his curveball. And, as of now, he’s sticking with it. I guess when you have a season where you are literally the worst pitcher of the last century, you do the opposite of what you were doing. Or maybe retire and disappear faster than John Rocker, who I believe is self-defenestrating into large cacti at the moment. Or at least I hope and dream, as proper impact feels fantastic in the right places. I’m lying, it doesn’t feel fantastic at all. With a return of velocity, he’s getting swing and misses, and while his ERA is still sitting at unfashionable 4.82, his FIP of 4.52 puts him about half a run above the league average. So finally, the dreaded title bomb is dropped upon you:
What is Brian Matusz’s deep impact?
And by deep impact, I mean Morgan Freeman is the president. He is the God. And he is almost certainly willing to Mandela your face. In this fantastic world, there is no need to pay attention to Matusz in your basic 10 team redraft leagues. There are plenty of other options out there. So if you sat here reading this and just realized you don’t need to any longer, I urge you to blame Grey. If you can’t find him, blame the mustache, as it is everywhere. However, if you are in a league that has a constitution so long and so boring, you copy and paste it into MS Word, saving it for the time when your child goes to college and needs inspiration for their graduation thesis topic on historic European textile industries and their affect on the French Bourgeoisie, well then, you should take notice of what Matusz is doing.
The time to buy is now or really soon. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that he was being compared as a super-hybrid of a prime Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, with a high cheek bone structure that will make him look like a 12 year old boy until the age of 67. His calling card was sharp command and solid overall stuff. Based on what we’ve seen this year, those skill sets are returning, albeit slowly. At age 25, I see continuing, but slow improvement over this season, and perhaps a return to sleeper status in the upcoming offseason with a full rebound soon thereafter. If you don’t mind carrying a serviceable #5 that could be more, put on a pair of Nike’s and just do it. I’m looking straight at all of the Blanton and Hughes owners out there, all 7 of you.
An even better and safer play is putting him in a bench slot. If you can trade for him, his price is still low and chances are his owners have either been hiding him on their bench, or haven’t been impressed with the ebb and flow of his starts so far. It should be pointed out that his schedule has been somewhat rocky, going against the Yankees twice, Texas, and Boston. So there is some cause for comfort, as he hasn’t been bad against bad teams, but sorta average against good teams. Matusz might not have progressed as expected, but his development curve has once again been established. I, of course, could be wrong. For his next 25 starts, he could do a Robert Duvall impersonation by hiding in an asteroid and then exploding, sending a huge chunk to take out Frodo. He could do that. Or, he could continue on the current path and once again try to reach his ceiling of a #1/2 starter. When it comes to deep leagues, there is always inherent risk. Sometimes, you just have to go into a fetal position and hope to survive starting Nick Punto and Tommy Hunter. In this case, I think Matusz is now worth the risk. Instead of being a bust, I truly believe the prospect of good return value here is now near 50/50, if not slightly more.
As a great man once said, “If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price.” That was Patrick Swayze. Take heed, because when you are looking for a deep impact, Point Break style, you gotta take risks. That’s what Matusz is. And in case you’re wondering, I picked him off the waivers in my deep AL a couple of weeks ago. So join me. We will rise like the fiery Phoenix or we will drop through the atmosphere like airplane released doodie. But we will do it together, holding hands until we run out of oxygen or we make a very aesthetic and defining doo-doo splat.
Edit: This post was written before Matusz’s start on 6/2/2012. Like an Ace of Base song, he responded well to all my sensory inputs. We should all note that he now has 4 straight quality starts and had his longest outing of the year at 7.1 innings. What’s my initial reaction to this? Boom shakalaka son!