New York Mets fans are clinging to the tiny glimmer of hope that pitcher Steven Matz has brought in his first two starts in the majors.
Like the loving, but broke, boyfriend chasing the uptown girl, the New York Mets may be the most maddening and endearing franchise in Major League Baseball. Their star pitcher (Matt Harvey) is nicknamed Batman, their prized rookie (Noah Syndergaard) goes by Thor and the unappreciated third wheel (Jacob DeGrom) sports the hair of Samson. The forgotten starter (Jon Niese) is an expert groundball pitcher whose ERA sits at 3.58 and has allowed three earned runs or fewer in his last six starts. And let's not forget that when Bartolo Colon starts, we watch him hit.
Run by ponzi-schemed owners and inhabited by the National League's worst offense, the Mets are an arduous, if eminently watchable team that guarantee seamlessly pitched but offensively inept performances. The tortured fanbase is fighting back with a struggling but visible campaign under the slogan "Ya Gotta Leave" directed toward the Wilpon family, who eviscerated the payroll after losing millions to Bernard Madoff during the 2008 financial collapse.
So the arrival of another promising rookie may offer a glimmer of hope to the faithful group that survives the team's .234 team batting average and dreadful 84 OPS+, or it may add further fuel to the argument that the financially hamstrung owners are robbing the team of immediate success. Either way, Steven Matz looks like a long-term staple to baseball's most fearsome young rotation.
Just 24 years old and a product of Long Island, Matz has shined in his first two starts at the big league level. In his big league debut against the Reds, he scattered five hits over 7 2/3 innings and logged six strikeouts (he also went 3-for-3 with 4 RBI ... perhaps the Mets should bat him cleanup). Against the Dodgers, he was nearly unhittable, allowing two hits over six innings and striking out eight (he pitched in an RBI single in that one too).
While his shine may dull after a few more starts, Matz has already flashed signs of a dynamic big league power pitcher. His fastball hovers around 96 MPH with a visible sinking action and generates a high number of swings and misses. He relies heavily on the fastball (he's thrown it 68% of the time during his first two starts), but offsets it with a curveball that has produced mostly lazy fly balls. While he doesn't throw his changeup often (just 10% of the time), he's gotten hitters to swing and miss almost 40% of the time when he chooses it.
The sample sizes may be too small to rely heavily on analytics, but Matz has shown spectacular command of his fastball and disciplined breaking pitches in his first two outings. His outings were so impressive, manager Terry Collins has opted for a six-man rotation to keep him on the club. He's already owned in 87% of CBS leagues, but Matz now gives the Mets an opportunity to trade Niese to a team needing rotation depth (the Dodgers come to mind), which should secure the rookie's spot in the rotation.
So maybe the fans don't believe in the Mets, but they can believe in Matz.
Pitchers of the Week
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox, 17 IP, 18 K, 1.59 ERA, 0.76 WHIP: He finished his eighth consecutive game with 10 strikeouts or more last week and pitched a complete game (only six strikeouts this time) on Monday against the Blue Jays, the AL's scariest offense. Blasphemous as it may sound, Sale has already approached the value of Clayton Kershaw, and if this continues, he may surpass it.
Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers, 7 IP, 4 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.59 WHIP: A recurring member of this list, Greinke extended his scoreless streak to 28 innings and has a 9/1 K-to-BB ratio during that time period. He has a 1.48 ERA this season and is the only deserving starter of the NL starter game besides Max Scherzer.
Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs, 13.1 IP, 12 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP: Hendricks blanked the Marlins and Mets in back-to-back starts and racked up 12 strikeouts and only two walks over 13 1/3 innings. Believed to be a stopgap at the end of the Cubs' rotation this season, the unlikely starter has provided needed stability to the Cubs' rotation.
Mike Montgomery, Seattle Mariners, 14.2 IP, 9 K, 0.61 ERA, 0.82 WHIP: He almost no-hit the Padres before limiting the Royals in his last start. He's allowed just one earned run over his past 23 2/3 innings (surprisingly, to the light-hitting Sam Fuld).
Pitchers of the Weak
Matt Boyd, Toronto Blue Jays, 6.2 IP, 7 K, 14.85 ERA, 2.40 WHIP: I don't know that a soul was starting him, but Boyd was tuned up for seven earned runs and didn't even record an out in his start against the Red Sox. Ouch.
Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox, 2.0 IP, 3 K, 31.50 ERA, 3.50 WHIP: His dreadful season just gets worse. Porcello now has a 6.08 ERA this season and has surrendered five earned runs or more in five of his last eight starts. A bullpen relegation or minors assignment looks (shockingly) imminent.
Aaron Harang, Philadelphia Phillies, 5 IP, 4 K, 14.40 ERA, 3.00 WHIP: It should come as no surprise that the Phillies left poor Harang out to suffer through 14 (!) hits over five innings. On Monday night, they left Sean O'Sullivan in for 123 pitches over 5 1/3 innings.
Mike Pelfrey, Minnesota Twins, 2 IP, 1 K, 36.00 ERA, 6.00 WHIP: It was another blowup start for Pelfrey, whose inconsistency has riddled his career. In his last nine starts, he's surrendered 26 earned runs. Sixteen of those came in just two of those starts.
Buy, Sell or Hold
Buy: Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The former prize prospect of the Marlins system was sharp against the Yankees in his second start of the season (7 IP, 7 K, 1 ER) and has flummoxed two powerful offenses between New York and the Astros. He gets another stiff test on Tuesday against the Rockies in Coors Field, but his work in the minors earlier this season appears to have improved his command.
Sell: Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners
It's not an encouragement to sell the hard-throwing 22-year-old as it is to sell high if your team needs offense. Walker has been outstanding over his last seven starts (1.68 ERA, three walks, 51 strikeouts) and hasn't walked a batter in his last 27 2/3. He appears to have recovered from an awful start to the season and help stabilize the Mariners rotation. With his gaudy strikeout numbers, he's worth keeping on your roster, but he'll also command a great package from any owner partial to young talent.
Hold: Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians
Bauer pitched an effective game against the Pirates last week after two horrible starts in a row. He's struggled at home (6.49 ERA in eight home starts), but the surging Indians should provide him the offense needed to offset any of his recent struggles. His arsenal of pitches and high strikeout rates are too good to ignore.