5 things to know about Steven Matz

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Dan Buffa, SPECIAL FOR THE JEWISH LIGHT

Steven Matz may not be what fans wanted, but does he make the St. Louis Cardinals a better team in 2022?  Let’s dig into a few things about the team’s newest pitcher and free-agent signing. With the collective bargaining agreement expiring this week, he may be their biggest and only signing of the offseason.  Here are 5 things to know about Steven Matz.

A southpaw coming off his best season

If there’s one thing the front office coveted this winter, it was left-handed firepower, whether it be a pitcher or a hitter. With a lineup and rotation stacked with righties, Matz gives the team some balance with their starters. A rotation stuffed with both right and left arms create problems for opposing teams. He will be joining his third team in the past two years, after spending six seasons with the New York Mets and 2021 with the Toronto Blue Jays. With the signing, the Cardinals found what they were seeking out: a relatively cheap lefty who can eat up some innings without dazzling anybody.

With a 2.8 fWAR (wins above replacement) in 2021, Matz produced his most complete season. He threw 150 innings in 29 starts, compiled a 3.82 ERA, and walked only 43 batters. The 8.6 strikeouts-per-nine-innings was the same as his first year in the big leagues, so he’s steady. If you’re expecting him to become something much more than this past season’s work, disappointment will settle in.

Cardinal Nation, please temper your expectations

What he can produce is akin to a #3 starter in a rotation, possibly even a fourth. You need the top two starters accumulating at least 180-220 innings with 33-34 starts, so Matz fits in below that. This is a player you measure your expectations carefully with. Consistency is his game, but dominance definitely isn’t.

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Matz doesn’t throw a baseball straight

Out of the pitches he employed in 2021, Matz leaned on the four-seam fastball the least. He didn’t throw a single flat heater this year, preferring his hard sinker, looping changeup, and a 12-to-6 curveball. In other words, he is exactly the brand of pitcher this team desires: one that throws a ton of grounder-inducing sinkers, which plays right into the gold glove-studded defense of the Cardinals.

Matz threw his sinker more than 50% of the time in four of the six months of the 2021 season. He sits across the spectrum from Lance Lynn, who primarily throws variations of a four-seamer. Matz relies on the two-seamer, aka a sinker, to get outs–even if it still comes in around 95 miles per hour.

Matz turns 31 in May and benefitted from a hot market

After making $5 million each of the past two seasons, Matz doubled his yearly salary with the Cardinals, coming out with a four-year deal averaging $11 million per season. He also turns 31 less than two months into the 2022 season, which could be delayed due to the new CBA. While he fits their profile, the salary and term only look nice in a very hot pitching market. The flip side of the coin tells you that sabermetrics is less worried about Matz, because a 2.5-3.0 fWAR is solid for a guy making $11 million.

‘Not exciting, but necessary’

That sums up the Matz signing the most. After a season where the team lost three-quarters of their rotation before the all-star break and issued too many walks, they had to go out and get someone who could assure them innings. Matz does that without really impressing you. Everything that makes him great is defense-assisted and dependent on a single pitch. Busch Stadium could help his stats a little, but he will always be the less-expensive option the team chose over a better arm like Marcus Stroman.

Steven Matz will do, but Cardinal Nation rightfully expected (and still does) more from this front office.