The St. Louis Cardinals agreed to a four-year, $44 million contract with Steven Matz after the 2021 season. Halfway through that deal, many consider it a failure. That's because most fans believe Matz hasn't stayed healthy and hasn't given the Cardinals quality innings. I believe that narrative is unfair. Steven Matz is now underrated. Today, I'm going to push back against two conjunctive narratives: that Steven Matz is a bad pitcher, and that his contract is a bad deal
Is Steven Matz a good pitcher?
I think Steven Matz is a good pitcher. That question isn't hard to answer. I can throw statistics at it. Matz gave the Cardinals 105 quality innings in 2023. He recorded a 3.86 ERA and a 3.795 FIP. That's good for a 113 ERA+. He was 13% better than an average MLB pitcher last year. Moreover, he limited walks (2.7 BB/9) and generated a decent number of strikeouts (8.4 K/9). If the more advanced analytics aren't for you, I can use traditional statistics as well. Matz ended his season with four consecutive quality starts. He won four of his last five games.
It's pretty simple. Matz is a good pitcher. For some reason, many fans can't stand him! They don't believe he's a quality starting option. Many want to see him moved to a relief role. Others want to see him traded, and are actively looking for ways to remove him from the roster. Let's deconstruct some of the gripes fans harbor against Matz.
So why do so many fans dislike Steven Matz?
Steven Matz, though fairly effective on the mound, has suffered from two critical issues: sequencing and health. Matz's Cardinals tenure began poorly. After a minor injury held him out of action for the first week, he made his Cardinal debut on April 10th, 2022. Matz recorded just three innings and allowed seven runs. While his next two starts were significantly better, a two-inning, eight-run implosion on May 7th brought Matz's ERA to a whopping 7.01 after six starts.
Put simply, Matz made a terrible first impression. In his first month as a Cardinal, he sustained an injury, imploded twice, and recorded just one quality start. Matz made two relatively decent starts afterward but allowed a combined four home runs. It was now evident to many fans that their big off-season acquisition had a homer problem as well!
It was around this point that fans started demanding Matz be removed from the roster. Obviously, that's a ridiculous request. The Cardinals had just invested $44 million into Matz and had nearly four full years of control remaining. Moreover, he was a critical part of their plans for the 2022 season and beyond. Unfortunately, in on May 22nd, Matz went down with an elbow injury. He'd miss the next two months.
Matz's much-anticipated return came on July 23rd. Many fans, still soured by his rocky start to the season, believed he should be inserted into the bullpen, however, the Cardinals remained committed to utilizing him in the rotation. Matz responded with a great performance. He looked dominant, recording seven strikeouts and pitching into the sixth. Unfortunately, it was during the sixth inning when Matz took a comebacker off of his lower leg. The Cardinals announced that he'd suffered a serious injury and would miss at least six weeks. Matz again returned in September and pitched exclusively out of the bullpen.
In 2023, the narrative was much of the same. Matz started off slowly and was eventually moved to the bullpen. He looked better in a relief role, but injuries in the rotation forced the Cardinals to reinstate him as a starter. Matz took the opportunity and ran with it, pitching brilliantly over a seven-game stretch. In each of his final four appearances, he turned in a quality start. In this time, he also lowered his ERA to an impressive mark of 3.86. Unfortunately, just as he started to realize his potential, his season ended abruptly. Matz again suffered a major injury, his third in just two years with the Cardinals.