07 September 2011
Brian Matusz has had a better season than Roy Halladay
This is not a sophomore slump, it is a third year flop. Neither truly exist. However, the former is waxed upon far more often because it is simply more common to pull off a single good year and then never be any much good thereafter. Think about all the players who have had one solid year in the midst of a career of mediocrity or worse. True, it can be an issue of a 'book' being written on a guy and batteries being well prepared and disciplined with the batter never have the ability to do anything to counter that approach. It may also be true that fate smiled kindly for an extended amount of time. Those things are much more easily accomplished over the course of successive seasons. It is far more difficult to have two promising seasons followed by a pitifully, miserable one.
This brings us to the inexplicable title and, soon, the meat of this post. If the season ended today, Brian Matusz' third year as a pro would in fact have resulted in a better stat line than Roy Halladay's third year as a pro. However, it cannot be ignored how truly awful their feats have been, respectively (Matusz now and Halladay then). I researched just how many players have logged at a minimum Matusz' innings pitched (43) and his ERA (9.84). Besides Halladay, have there been other instances where a pitcher has done worse than Matusz in as many or more innings pitched? Yes. Three others in fact.
Steve Blass - 1972 Pittsburgh Pirates
This is a famous example. Whenever you hear about a pitcher losing all control, Steve Blass' name comes up. Blass entered into the 1972 season as one of the major pieces of the Pirates starting rotation. Over the previous five years, Blass had turn in three seasons that were of ace or second slot quality for a first division team. In 1972, that all went to pot. Blass, for the times, had never be a great control artist and hovered around three walks per nine innings. That sky rocketed up to over eight per nine. The Pirates, remembering how very good of a pitcher he was, let him try to work it out. They had a lot depending on him and no readily apparent successor that could give them what he used to give. That wishful thinking led Blass to start 18 games and relieve in five, amounting to 88.2 IP. His ERA settled in at 9.85 before the Pirates decided to go in a different direction. He lasted one game the next season, walking 7 over 5 innings, and never appeared in the Majors again.
Micah Bowie - 1999 Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs
Bowie is a case of another pitcher whose team had sunk in a good deal of interest. He came up through the Braves system as a name to keep track of, but not exactly a top tier prospect. Bowie, along with Bruce Chen, became part of Atlanta's interesting collection of successful minor league arms that simply did not have the pure stuff to make it at the big league level. However, this was not entirely realized then and the Braves mystique often led many teams to overvalue players groomed in Atlanta's system. Bowie made his debut as a reliever in late July for the Braves and gave them three relatively inconsistent appearances. Presumably, this was an audition for other teams to gauge hime for inclusion in a trade at the deadline, something that just does not happen anymore. The Cubs were intrigued by what they saw and sent over Terry Mulholland for a package that included Bowie. Not worrying about any possibility of the playoffs and having sent away a somewhat valuable trade piece, the Cubs ran out Bowie to show how well he could pitch in the Bigs. With quite a large amount of rope, he proceeded to show the Cubs that what was not hittable in AAA was incredibly hittable in the big leagues and that it was hit hard. Bowie gave up over fourteen hits per nine innings along with nearly two home runs per nine. With his stuff not playing up to the competition, he worked on the corners with ineffective control and walked six every nine innings. The Cubs were disheartened and had other arms with more promise (or hope) to evaluate. He logged 51 innings and notched a 10.24 ERA. Bowie bounced around the minors for the next few years with periodic success with the Athletics and Nationals in small stints, but these were fleeting and he would be hit hard with longer exposure.
Roy Halladay - 2000 Toronto Blue Jays
Halladay was coming off a very promising 1999 and the Jays had high hopes for him in their rotation. The 2000 campaign did not go as anticipated, the 23 year old compiled a 10.64 ERA and was hit hard in 67.2 innings. He was demoted to the Jays' AAA team in Syracuse and was wholly ineffective at that level as well. This is a pattern that we have seen with the former two and we will see with the next example. The only way you are going to have a pitcher log this many innings and throw so poorly is if there is considerable investment by management. Halladay earned a great deal of credit on his earlier success and it took a while before the Jays' brain trust decided that the rust was just not going to come off. Halladay simply was not a good pitcher. In turn, he strove to get better and worked with Mel Queen to revamp his delivery. The conclusion was that Halladay was throwing a flat mid 90s fastball that was easily picked up out of the hand. Their attempted solution was to lower the arm angle, reduce speed, and use more deception in the delivery. He was then given half a season in the minors to more consistency utilize his new mechanics. When he returned in mid-2001, he showed up with a different delivery and a ball that had a lot more movement on it. He quickly proved himself to be successful with his reimagined pitching mechanics and returned to the Majors for good in the middle of the season.
Aaron Myette - 2002 Texas Rangers
Myette has a similar story to that of Bowie in that both were considered quite valuable prospects. Myette in fact garnered two top 100 rankings from Baseball America while he was in the Chicago White Sox system. A shaky 2000 erased that ranking for the 2001 list and he was shipped off to Texas in a deal for Royce Clayton with the Rangers hoping that he would get back that glamour. The Rangers were not in the hunt, enabling them to give Myette an extended look with the big league club. It did not go well. He started the next season in the minors and once again did well at AAA. They promoted him and gave him another extended look. Myette threw 48.1 innings with a 10.06 ERA. He proved to be incredibly httable and the Rangers lost patience. His career afterward included short stints with the Indians and Reds; nothing more.
One in four. If you want to take a generalized perspective here, Matusz might stand a one in four chance in redeeming himself. However, each scenario presents a situation that is different from Matusz. Bowie and Myette were highly invested prospects whose organizations wanted badly for them to succeed. However, neither of them had the success that Matusz showed before this season. Blass also is different as he suffered Steve Blass syndrome and was incapable of throwing a strike. Roy Halladay was a hard thrower who had to learn how to pitch. Matusz might be the other way. He is a pitcher who needs to throw harder. I am not sure if he is capable of that or if he can further improve the command of his pitches.
The take home should be that if you are someone who has written him off, you should not. His stuff has flashed with success before. He has the skill. The key is whether he can harness that skill, regaining a couple needed miles per hour, or developing new ways to cope with newfound struggle.