Tonight, the Orioles send left handed pitcher Brian Matusz up against the Yankees’ Phil Hughes. There are plenty of similarities between the two pitchers, but what it boils down to are two highly touted pitching prospects, who are now 25 years old and failing in the rotation. After being drafted as the 4th overall selection in the 2008 draft, Matusz decimated hitters at high-A and AA, earning his first shot in the big leagues at 22 years old. Although he wasn’t overly dominant, his first two years with the Orioles were successful, posting a 4.37 ERA, 7.4 K/9, and 3.1 BB/9 in 220.1 innings in the tough division of the American League East. In 2011, Matusz saw his velocity drop from 91.5 mph to 88.0, which was accompanied by a 10.69 ERA, 7.66 FIP, and a demotion to AAA. While it appears that some changes to his delivery and offseason work have regained his velocity, he’s been far from good in his first 4 starts this season.
Matusz has a five pitch arsenal. His two fastballs, four-seam and sinker, sit at around 91.5 mph, with the four-seam often thrown straight and the two-seam breaking hard into lefties. His 84 mph changeup has a 7.5 mph difference, and breaks into lefties. His two breaking pitches are the 85 mph slider, that can often break late like a cutter, and a 77 mph curveball with sweeping action into right handed hitters. His selection in 2012 is 51% four-seam, 10% sinker, 13% slider, 8% curveball, and 17% changeup.
Plotted above is Matusz release point for 2012. The release zone sits from directly over the mound to a little over 1 foot to the right, and ranges from 6.5 to 7 feet. While this high arm slot might be confused with overhand, it is a very high 3/4 slot. One of the changes the lefty has made since last year, is moving closer to the middle of the plate, and here we see that he’s moved nearly a foot to the left (from the catcher’s perspective) compared to 2011. You can see his 2012 arm slot in the picture on the right.
Here we have the trajectory of each pitch plotted from the pitcher’s mound on the left to homeplate on the right, specifically to right handed hitters. The top image shows a bird’s eye view of the horizontal pitch break. There is a clear break from the sinker and changeup into left handed hitters here, the four-seam is a very straight pitch, and the curveball and slider move into right handed hitters. The bottom image shows the vertical break of each pitch from a 1st or 3rd base side. The four-seam has the most “rising” action, followed by the sinker, changeup, slider, and finally the curveball with largest late break.
The graph above plots the movement of each pitch based on a catcher’s perceptive, with the origin being a no-spin pitch conforming to gravity. The sinker has the most movement into same side hitters, with 9 inches of break in and falling 9 inches above the x-axis. To understand the sinking action of this pitch, you can compare it to the four-seam, which has about 2 inches more “rise”, sitting at 11 inches above the x-axis, and only 2 inches into lefties. While the changeup drops like the two-seam at 9 inches, the horizontal movement is only 6 inches into lefties. As for the breaking balls, the slider is thrown around 2 inches above the no-spin pitch and a considerable 4 inches into right handed hitters. Likewise, the curveball moves 9 inches into righties, with a relatively small drop of 5 inches below the x-axis.
Where He Throws It
This image plots the different location of pitches Matusz has thrown to right handed hitters. The game plan here is to throw pitches that move in on righties, inside to jam them, with the curveball and slider thrown mostly in and down. The sinker and changeup, which have breaks away from the hitter, are thrown away to get hitters chasing. In 2012, his selection to righties is 53% four-seam, 10% sinker, 9% slider, 8% curveball, and 20% changeup.
Against left handed hitters, Matusz threw most of his pitches away in the zone. While the four-seam and slider are often thrown away, they also appear to be his most confident pitches, thrown attacking the strikezone. Of the few changeups and sinkers that he threw to lefties, he located them in and outside the strikezone to jam hitters. The curveball, which moves down and away, is similarly thrown down and away, causing the hitter to chase. His selection to lefties this year is 42% four-seam, 11% sinker, 35% slider, 9% curveball, and 3% changeup.
When He Throws It
|Count||Four-seam (R)||Sinker (R)||Slider (R)||Curveball (R)||Changeup (R)|
Here we have Matusz selection to righties by count. Starting the count off, he is most confident in his four-seam, that he throws more than half the time, mixing in the sinker, curveball, and changeup to back it up. As he falls behing in the count, he is predictably reliant on the four-seam to get ahead in the count. As he gains in the count, the pitcher will mix more sliders and changeups for strike three. Thus far in 2012, he has a 21% whiff rate on the slider, and 13% rate on the changeup.
|Count||Four-seam (L)||Sinker (L)||Slider (L)||Curveball (L)||Changeup(L)|
Starting a count off against left handed hitters, Matusz is more apt to throw the slider, but also mixes in the four-seam and curveball for strike one. As he falls behind in the count, he will continue to throw four-seams and sliders, forgetting about the curveball. As he gains in the count, he becomes even more dependent on the slider for strike three, only occasionally throwing an offspeed pitch like the changeup or curveball. He’s been very successful earning swings and misses against lefties in 2012 so far, with an 19% whiff rate on the four-seam, 17% whiff rate on the slider, and 17% rate on the curveball.
As he primarily throws four-seam fastballs that induces flyballs, his batted ball rate is 46% flyballs, 34% groundballs, and 20% linedrives. Over his career, he’s had the ability to strikeout hitters, posting a 7.21 K/9 and a strong 3.53 BB/9. Most recently, perhaps with the lack of velocity, his strikeout rates have fallen and walk rates have increased. He also has a tremendous platoon split of a .300/.366/.488 triple slash facing righties, and .236/.293/.400 facing lefties. Although the move on the mound toward the middle of the plate was most likely to keep the break in on right handed batters, righties have hit him in 2012 with a .937 OPS. He also has a home/away split, with a 5.11 ERA at Camden, and a 5.95 ERA away.
Against The Yankees
Matusz has been killed by the Yankees, giving up a triple slash of .280/.346/.488 in 8 starts and 42.1 innings pitched. While the 5.10 ERA against the bombers is bad, he has been more successful in Yankee Stadium, where he has a 3.67 ERA behind a looming 1.407 WHIP. Despite his platoon splits, the two Yankee lefties, Cano and Granderson, each have 2 career homeruns off him, with Arod and Tex each having 1.
|Probable Yankee Lineup||At Bats||Triple Slash|
|Derek Jeter SS||22||.500/.522/.727|
|Curtis Granderson CF||12||.250/.308/.833|
|Alex Rodriguez 3B||13||.231/.333/.615|
|Robinson Cano 2B||22||.409/.409/.727|
|Mark Teixeira 1B||17||.412/.450/.706|
|Andruw Jones RF||8||.125/.222/.125|
|Raul Ibanez DH||0|
|Eduardo Nunez LF||3||.000/.000/.000|
|Russell Martin C||5||.200/.200/.200|
For all the terrible numbers Matusz has recently, he’s shown impressive whiff rates in 2012. If these numbers are indicative of his true talent, which they very well could be, he still has potential. That said, there is nothing more that suggests success tonight. Facing a Yankee lineup of mostly right handed hitters and two lefties who have smacked him around, I don’t see Matusz lasting on the mound. While the Yankee offense has looked weak lately, they’ve also faced good pitchers. Finally the team will see a pitcher that is least suitable for this lineup and ballpark, and I expect them to take advantage of that.