Counting down the 20 most important Cardinals in 2023: #16 Steven Matz
Why is Steven Matz important for St. Louis in 2023?
As mentioned previously, Matz is the only member of this year's expected starting rotation with a contract for next year. The Cardinals will feel better about next winter if they have confidence Matz can be an above-average starter through 2025. But that's next season. What about this season?
There's certainly a silver lining to be spotted in Matz's 2022 performance. Remember back in '21 when he recorded a 3.82 ERA? Well, his ERA+, which compares pitchers to an average of 100 and accounts for his home ballpark, was 117, meaning he was 17% better than an average pitcher. Matz also struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings. Additionally, his FIP, which evaluates pitchers based only on their strikeouts, walks, HBP, and home runs allowed, was 3.79.
Flash forward to 2022, and his FIP was 3.78, essentially the same as the previous year despite an ERA over 1.4 runs higher. While his ERA+ was an ugly 73, Matz whiffed 10.1 batters per nine innings, a rate 1.5 K/9 higher than in '21. Also, he reduced his WHIP (Walks+Hits / Innings Pitched) from 1.33 in '21 to 1.25 last year.
Is Matz going to compete for a Cy Young award? Almost certainly not. But free agent pitchers of that caliber, such as Justin Verlander, can earn over $40M per season on a short-term deal, while long-term pacts for aces cost $30M+ per year. Even mediocre pitchers like Jameson Taillon and Taijuan Walker got $17M-$18M per season over four years this winter.
If Matz can be a No. 3 or No. 4-level pitcher going forward and make 25-30 starts per year, eating up 150 or so innings, the Cardinals will be quite happy to pay him the remaining $35.5M coming to him over the next three seasons.
With age (Adam Wainwright), injury (Jack Flaherty), and free agency (Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, and Jordan Montgomery) concerns with the rest of the St. Louis rotation, the Cardinals will be quite pleased if Matz can be a consistently solid-if-unspectacular starter over the coming months and years.
Given the offensive fireworks the Redbird bats can provide, the excellent defense the team possesses, a gaggle of young position players pushing for playing time, and a strong bullpen backing up the starting rotation, St. Louis had the opportunity to put together a very good season. Steven Matz isn't the centerpiece of the team, but he's a notable piece of the puzzle whom the Cardinals are counting on simply to fulfill expectations.