Brian Matusz as a Potential Starter

In 2011, Brian Matusz had one of the worst seasons imaginable as a pitcher. At the end of Spring Training, he suffered an intercostal strain and missed the first three months of the season. In his first start back, he gave up one run in 5 2/3 innings pitched, struck out three and walked none. In his next eleven starts, broken up by a stint in the minor leagues, he pitched 44 innings, struck out 35, walked 24 and gave up 18 home runs. There have been roughly 7,000 pitcher seasons over 40 innings in the last 20 years. Brian Matusz’ 3.26 HR/9 is the highest of all of them. Matusz was given another shot to start the next season, but was sent to the minors in July and when he returned, it was as a reliever, the role he has had ever since.

There have been some discussions about moving him back into a starting role. Baltimore does not currently have an opening for him, but there have been rumors that another team could trade for him and try to recapture the talent that once made him Baseball America’s number five prospect in all of baseball. In his recent Sunday Notes column, David Laurilia asked him if he enjoyed starting more and he answered, “Absolutely. No question.” The Orioles had been ramping up Matusz with starter innings, getting up to four innings on March 20th, but have since limited him to one inning performances, readying him for the role he has held the last two seasons for the Orioles.

Matusz’ experience heading into his Age-28 season is pretty unique. With 68 games started and 146 from the bullpen, not many pitchers, especially from the left side, can boast those numbers. Over the last 25 years, only four other left-handed pitchers have at least fifty games started and 100 games out of the bullpen through their Age-27 season, per Baseball Reference. Brett Cecil, much like Matusz, was a very highly thought of prospect who was given multiple shots in the rotation before settling in the bullpen the last few years. Sean Marshall was a starter for the first few years of his career before finding his home in the bullpen. Omar Daal was a reliever to begin his career before the expansion Arizona Diamonbacks made him a starter. Finally, Kent Mercker started his career off as a reliever as well before getting half a dozen seasons in as a starter and then moving back to the bullpen.

Even expanding the above group through Age-29 finds no comparable players who were given legitimate shots at the rotation, moved to the bullpen, and then moved back to the rotation. There are players like Daal, or more successful examples like Kenny Rogers or Derek Lowe, who moved from the bullpen to the rotation, but once players get their shot, it is very tough to get back in the rotation. Right-handers Kelvim Escobar and Ryan Dempster have done it, but it is not common. For Matusz, the reason he is in the bullpen, and the reason he might not get another chance in the rotation, is that he has never found a way to consistently get right-handed hitters out.

Matusz has pitched fairly well out of the bullpen the last two seasons with a 23.7% strikeout rate, a 7.6% walk rate, a 3.51 ERA and a 3.46 FIP in just over 100 innings pitched. The left-hander has not been deployed as a traditional low-inning LOOGY, but more than 50% of the batters he has faced have hit from the left side. Matusz did get the traditional velocity bump moving from the rotation to the bullpen although he did move slightly backwards last season.


Matusz did change his repertoire on entering the bullpen, abandoning his sinker, lessening his change, increasing the use of his fastball, and using a hard sinker with greater frequency, per Brooks Baseball.

Pitch Type Through 7/2012 After 7/2012 Through 7/2012 After 7/2012
Freq Freq Velo (mph) Velo (mph)
Fourseam 47.2% 54.2% 90.9 92.2
Sinker 13.8% 2.6% 91.2 91.9
Change 17.2% 10.1% 82.9 84.2
Slider 11.6% 26.2% 83.3 86.0
Curve 10.3% 6.9% 76.5 78.5

The changes have worked out very well against left-handers as he has struck out 27.7% of lefties, walked them just 5.8% of the time, and been good for a 2.66 FIP over the last two years. However, he has yet to figure out right-handers. For his career, right-handed hitters are hitting .298/.369/.493 for a .373 wOBA. The numbers have been less terrible over the past few years, but they are still bad with a .287/.362/.455 line and .353 wOBA against with a 4.44 FIP. His location has gotten slightly better. Here is his zone map as a starter against right-handers.


Here is is his zone map as a reliever.


He is not pitching as much in the middle of the zone and has gotten the ball down as a reliever, which should limit damage somewhat. Against right-handers, his repertoire change is not as pronounced as his overall mix, per Brooks Baseball.

Pitch Type Through 7/2012 v. RH After 7/2012 v. RH Through 7/2012 v. RH After 7/2012 v. RH
Freq Freq Velo (mph) Velo (mph)
Fourseam 44.9% 53.4% 90.9 92.2
Sinker 16.2% 3.9% 91.2 91.7
Change 21.2% 20.3% 82.9 84.2
Slider 7.2% 14.4% 83.2 86.0
Curve 10.5% 8.1% 76.3 78.7

The change is a problem as it is a pitch designed to neutralize right-handed hitters for left-handed starters. Matusz is throwing it the same amount against righties, but it has not been effective. As a starter, the change had a whiff rate around 15%, and as a reliever that rate has dropped below 10%, per Brooks Baseball. Matusz is generally a fastball-slider pitcher, but against right-handers, he is still more the fastball-change pitcher that he was as a starter. The curveball has never been very successful for Matusz, with under a 7% whiff rate and under 5% against right-handers.

Matusz has gotten better against righties, and those are numbers a team can live with given the good numbers against lefties, but they do not provide confidence that he could move back into the rotation given the number of right-handed hitters he would face. Matusz is a solid reliever, and would make a good addition to bullpens looking to add a lefty, but taking him on as a starter reclamation project is not likely to yield great results without significant development.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Mike Green
7 years ago

That intercoastal strain must have been terrible. I’d prescribe a trip to the Cactus League.