Detroit Tigers free agent target: Starting pitcher Steven Matz

Steven Matz pitches against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Matz pitches against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Tigers are still in the market for pitching, and left-handed starter Steven Matz appears poised to sign soon.

For most of Contender November we’ve been offering hypothetical scenarios to make the Detroit Tigers better in 2022. We’ve speculated about shortstops, outfielders, and utility types, as well as plenty of other starters.

But with Steven Matz we actually have a genuine rumor:

So let’s dig into who Steven Matz is and see how he might help the Detroit Tigers.

Who is Steven Matz?

A Long Island native, Steven Matz was considered one of the best high school pitchers in the northeast when the Mets gave him an over-slot deal in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft.

But Matz’s pro career got off to an inauspicious start, as he underwent Tommy John surgery and didn’t throw a pitch in a competitive game until June of 2012, more than three full years after he was drafted.

Injuries have plagued Matz for much of his career, but he was excellent whenever he took the mound, as evidenced by his career minor-league ERA of 2.40 in just under 400 innings. That success saw him climb onto top-100 prospect lists, and he made his MLB debut with a historic performance in June 2015:

Matz continued to pitch well in 2015, made three strong starts in the playoffs, and then had a very solid official rookie campaign in 2016. He went 9-8 with a 3.40 ERA over 132.1 innings, which was good for 2.5 bWAR and a 6th-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting.

But injuries continued to dog Matz. He missed time in 2015 with a torn lat, in 2016 with a sore shoulder, and made two trips to the IL in 2017 with elbow issues. In 2018 it was a flexor pronator strain in his left arm, in 2019 it was radial nerve discomfort, and in 2020 it was more shoulder discomfort.

Despite the laundry list of injuries, Matz continued to pitch fairly well when he was healthy. His ERAs in 2017 (6.08) and 2020 (9.68) were nightmarish, but in the intervening years he combined for a 4.09 ERA over 314.1 innings.

The Mets, seemingly tired of the ups-and-downs of Matz’s career, traded him to Toronto in January. And in true Mets fashion, Matz then went out and had the best season of his career (at least by fWAR), posting a 3.82 ERA over 150.2 innings.

That performance wasn’t quite enough for the Blue Jays to tender Matz a qualifying offer, however, and now he’s a fairly hot name on the free agent market.

What Can Steven Matz do for the Detroit Tigers?

When healthy, Matz is a quality back-of-the-rotation starter with solid stuff. He isn’t considered a fireballer, but he was among the hardest-throwing left-handed starters in majors last year, with a sinker that averaged 94.5 MPH for the season.

Matz’s best secondary offering is undoubtedly his changeup — it ranked among the best in the big leagues last year — but he also has a decent curve and a slider that occasionally shows promise. He’s a quality strike thrower, with a career walk rate of 7.2%, and he does well when he keeps the ball on the ground.

Matz’s career numbers looking strikingly similar to Matthew Boyd’s, with one key exception:

Matz’s career HR/FB rate (16.4%) is actually higher than Boyd’s (13.9%), but Matz gets far more ground balls than Boyd does. With Boyd’s injury clouding his future, Matz seems like a potential upgrade, if the price is right.

The Cost of Signing Steven Matz

So what does one pay for an injury plagued number four starter heading into his age-31 season? Fortunately, we have a pretty strong player comp in Anthony DeSclafani, who just signed a three-year, $36-million deal to return to the San Francisco Giants.

DeSclanfani is right handed and one year older than Matz, but like Matz he is coming off an excellent bounce-back campaign after a dreadful 2020 season. Both pitchers are projected to produce 2.3 fWAR and an ERA around 4.15 in 2022.

Matz’s age may help him, but his injury history is more troubling that DeSclafani’s. It seems likely Matz is headed for a deal in the 2-3 year range at about $10-11 million per season.

That could end up being a decent move for the Detroit Tigers. It would give them some much-needed depth for their rotation, and Matz has a bit of upside remaining.

But given Matz’s litany of injuries, and Detroit’s need to cover innings, it seems their money might be better spent elsewhere.

Next. Detroit Tigers free agent target: Outfielder Seiya Suzuki. dark