Sure the playoffs are going on, but maybe you don't have a horse in this race, or maybe you're a depressed Twins or Rays fan who is anxious as they wait for what could be a season-ending game three tomorrow. Today we will bring you a distraction from October baseball to talk a little bit about 2011—specifically, returning to the coverage of rookies we have been running the past few weeks, this time, in terms of a Baltimore Orioles' southpaw.
We last checked in with Brian Matusz on August 16 of this season. At the time, he was whiffing 6.9 batters per nine while handing out free passes at a league average rate, and allowing opponents a slugging percentage of .431 and an Isolated Power of .151. Just 67 percent of his baserunners had been stranded to that point, and his SIERA was significantly better than his ERA (4.49 vs. 5.28). I closed the entry on Matusz with this:
Better pitch location and a more aggressive approach from the start of a plate appearance could help him rack up more strikeouts and rely on the defense behind him less, but that's the kind of thing you figure out by pitching in the majors more. Matusz, despite his ERA and the division he's pitched in, has been solid in 2010, and deserves more of a look in 2011 than first glances suggest.
Matusz would make eight more starts and throw 46 additional innings following that analysis, and even a quick look shows you that he did just what he needed to in order to succeed: 8.4 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 (K/BB of 3.6) and an opponent line of .178/.237/.282, which included a ridiculous (though small sample) showing against fellow left-handers (.083/.132/.083).
This stretch jumped his punch out rate to 7.3 per nine, dropped his unintentional walk rate to 3.1 per nine and drove his strand rate to a much more normal 72 percent. It wasn't entirely Matusz' doing, as Baltimore's Defensive Efficiency climbed from 68.3 percent of balls in play converted into outs to 69.3 percent over the last month-and-a-half of the season, but the defense wasn't picking up all those strikeouts and cutting his walks allowed down either, so he deserves plenty of credit for a late-season adjustment.
Not only did Matusz's ERA dip from 5.28 down to 4.30, and his SIERA also fell down to 4.20 thanks to the improved peripherals. A (legitimate) ERA of 4.30, in the American League East, for a rookie pitcher—that's impressive. That puts him right around his 70th percentile PECOTA forecast, which is very encouraging for the future, as it seems like he adjusted enough to compensate for the quality of his competition. Matusz was someone you should have been paying attention to in terms of 2011 anyway, but with this strong end to the season, in terms of both peripherals and the defense played behind him, makes him even more intriguing of an option for the future.