Can the St. Louis Cardinals rely on Steven Matz in 2024?

There's a narrative going around, and it says that Steven Matz isn't a competent pitcher. I'm going to put that to bed today.
St. Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs
St. Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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Deconstructing these narratives

Many fans believe Matz is a streaky pitcher who can't stay healthy. On the surface, it's hard to argue with them. But, both narratives have some holes. While Matz has suffered major injuries, they've been weird injuries. The lower leg injury he suffered during his return in July of 2022 was just terrible luck. Come backers happen, and sometimes they injure the guy standing on the mound. Unfortunately for Matz, he happened to be the guy standing on the mound. Had Matz not suffered such an unlucky injury, he may have finished 2022 on a high note, which could have vastly changed the way fans see him.

There's also something to be said about the nature of his injury in 2023. It was a relatively minor injury. Matz probably could have returned had the team deemed it necessary. He may have only missed several weeks of action. However, the Cardinals had no chance to make the postseason. The season was effectively over. It seemed unwise to hasten his return if there were no important games left to play. Thus, he missed more time than he normally would have.

Additionally, that injury was a lat strain. The lat is a muscle in the upper back, just below the shoulder. While those injuries aren't something to be overlooked, they also aren't too serious for pitchers. They're much less concerning than elbow or shoulder injuries. All indicators point toward Matz rehabbing fully and being healthy before spring training.

Matz has been streaky as a Cardinal. However, that's mostly due to a small sample size bias. In two years, unfortunate injuries have limited him to less than 160 innings. He's only made 27 starts with the team. To determine whether Matz is a streaky pitcher, we'll look at his previous experience. Excluding 2020, Matz recorded three straight seasons with at least 150 innings pitched, and in each of those campaigns, his ERA hovered around 4.00. In his best year, which came in 2021 in Toronto, Matz won 14 games with an ERA of 3.82 and a FIP of 3.79. Funnily enough, in his first two seasons in St. Louis, he has recorded FIPs of 3.78 and 3.75, respectively. Contrary to what many seem to believe, Matz has been a model of consistency. With a little bit of improved injury luck, he should enjoy a very productive next two seasons.