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Brian Matusz Matters
Stuart Wallace | Sunday December 2nd, 2012
Brian Matusz showed true potential in 2012. (US Presswire)
Brian Matusz showed true potential in 2012. (US Presswire)
The 2012 season was marked by a couple of unique instances of once dominant or promising top of the rotation starting pitchers making their way to the bullpen with superb results.

The first was of course former Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum doing his best Brian Wilson impersonation (sans facial atrocities) for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, and being a lights out arm out of the bullpen to complement righty closer Sergio Romo

In a season marked by continued drops in velocity as well as some inconsistencies with regards to throwing strikes, Lincecum the starter made way to Lincecum the reliever, who responded by putting up postseason numbers consistent with those from his 2009 Cy Young season. Take a look:


IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

LOB%

GB%

HR/FB

ERA

FIP

xFIP

2012 Postseason

17.2

10.19

2.55

0

0.214

64.3%

47.6%

0.0%

2.55

1.68

2.84

2009 CY

225.1

10.42

2.72

0.4

0.282

75.9%

47.5%

5.5%

2.48

2.34

2.83


Impressive stats, and even more impressive when you remove Lincecum's single postseason start from the data. In 15 IP as solely a reliever in the 2012 postseason, Lincecum had an even more impressive line, which was punctuated by a 11.8 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, and a .073 batting average against. While the Lincecum as reliever experiment was a resounding success, it will be a short lived change, as the decision to return him to the 2013 rotation has already been made.


A highly touted lefty of the Baltimore Orioles, Matusz has spent his still developing career in the majors trying to live up to the hype that has surrounded him since being the No. 4 pick of the 2008 MLB draft of of the University of San Diego. Between Matusz and righty Jake Arrieta, the O's top of the rotation on paper is set for a number of years to come.

Years have come and gone, and the promise of both players still remains, but with no real results. With respect to Matusz, an inability to harness his plus repertoire has hampered the progress of both the success of the Orioles, and his career; a .400 winning percentage, to go with a 2:1 K/BB ratio, and an unimpressive 79 career ERA+, all point to Matusz not materializing as the ace that Baltimore has hoped for.

However, 2012 was a season of renewed hope for Baltimore, and for Matusz. A memorable season marked by 93 wins, 11 over their Pythagorean win expectancy, and an exciting run in the AL playoffs, the Orioles played beyond all expectations, much to the delight of Charm City fans. Matusz found himself playing beyond all expectations, but only after a demotion to the bullpen. Let's take a look at the 2012 Matusz had overall, as a reliever, and compare his output to all AL relievers in 2012:


IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

LOB%

GB%

HR/FB

ERA

FIP

xFIP

Matusz, 2012

98

7.44

3.77

1.38

0.319

69.7%

40.6%

12.2%

4.87

4.69

4.54

Matusz, relief

13.1

12.83

2.03

0.68

0.167

90.9 %

45.8 %

11.1 %

1.35

1.89

1.91

2012 AL Relievers


8.23

3.28

0.92

0.283

75.5%

44.2%

10.3%

3.55

3.81

3.94


As you can see, Matusz as a bullpen arm is lights out, and shares a number of similarities to the postseason of Tim Lincecum and his 2009 Cy Young numbers. In fact, if you crunch some numbers and do some comparables, you will find that only a handful of relievers have had a year similar to what Matusz did as a reliever in 2012.

While the spectra of small sample size haunts these stats, it is clear to see that Matusz thrived in these short inning stints. Looking at his ptich velocities as both a starter and reliever, we also see that his time in the 'pen has rejuvenated his repertoire ever so slightly.


FB

Sinker

Curve

Slider

Change

Starter

91.8

91.7

76.8

84.6

84.4

Reliever

92.5

91.4*

77

85.9

85.4

*total of three pitches thrown

Unladen with the demands of conserving energy or falling into a predictable pitch selection that concern those in the starting rotation, Matusz as a bullpen arm displays the life and power velocity that was expected out of him as a 1st round draft pick. He has also started to rely more on his fastball as a reliever, all but ditching his sinker in preference to his four seam fastball. As the previous table showed us his starting versus relieving output, all of this was for the better, as not only has his K/9 increased, his walk rate has dropped precipitously going from a stater to a reliever. Balls in play are also now less likely falling for hits, as his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) displays as a bullpen lefty.

Overall, the shift to the pen as a lefty complement to the likes of Jim Johnson and Pedro Strop has served Matusz quite well, and Baltimore fans are now beginning to see the potential that has followed him out of the 2008 draft become tangible, to the benefit of the O's, and their continued success as perennial AL East contenders. In the end, what began as a demotion for Brian Matusz now has the potential to be a promotion not only for him, but for the continued playoff caliber success that Baltimore enjoyed in 2012.
Stuart WallaceStuart Wallace is a writer for Baseball Press. A native of Las Vegas, NV, gave up 4 home runs in his college career, 3 to Johnny Estrada. Proprietor of the obtuse baseball musings at How Do I Baseball?. You can also catch him on Twitter at @TClippardsSpecs.