This season didn’t go like most seasons. The Cardinals were terrible. I stopped writing here very much, with nothing after the blog anniversary. However, some things must go on and that includes the Exit Interview series! Now in its 12th year, it’s our look back at each player that made an appearance in a game for the St. Louis Cardinals. We’re approaching it a little different this season, a little more literary and a little less statistical, but hopefully you enjoy it just the same. As always, I am grateful that cardinalsgifs has agreed to use his talent for the header image!
Player: Steven Matz
Stats: 4-7, 25 G, 105.0 IP, 108 H, 11 HR, 32 BB, 98 K, 3.86 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 1.333 WHIP, 1.7 bWAR
Statcast: 4.7% barrel, 31.3% sweet spot, 111.4 max exit velocity, .316 wOBA, .304 xwOBA, 21.8% K, 7.1% BB
If this writeup was done after the first half of the season, the letter grade would be significantly different. At that point, Matz had a 4.86 ERA, which was actually one of the lower marks he’d had on the season. His first 10 starts went so badly that he was shifted into the bullpen role that he had success in last season. That worked well enough (2.81 ERA in 16 innings, even though the club went 0-8 in the games he appeared in) that he was put back in the rotation when Adam Wainwright hit the injured list.
Armed with a new confidence and a little bit of tweaking, Matz clicked in the rotation until being sidelined in mid-August with a lat strain. In that time, he had seven starts and won all four of the games he tallied on the year. His ERA was 1.86, he struck out a batter an inning, and he only walked an average of one batter per game. Given that the stretch included a four run outburst in 4.1 innings by the Nationals, you can see just how dominant he was during that stretch.
Is confidence all it takes to turn a middling pitcher into a rotation stalwart? Probably not always but there’s no doubt that it’s a necessary component for success. The question is whether this new Matz is truly new or that was a good seven start run that might have finished poorly had the injury not come along when it did. I don’t think Matz has reinvented himself–he’s not going to be putting up 2.00 ERAs or anything–but I think there’s probably more to it than just small sample size. He’s also spent his career alternating a good season with a bad one so there’s really no telling what we’ll have out of Matz going forward. With two years left on the contract, you hope he doesn’t have any more crises of confidence.
What’s in store for 2024: During his good stretch, John Mozeliak said that, if he kept going as he was, you could put him down in next year’s rotation in pen. Given the Cardinals are going to be looking for three starters already on the free agent and trade markets, there’s no particular reason to think that has changed. The hope is that he is the fifth starter, a person that can slide into the bullpen should he stumble or Zack Thompson (for example) excels enough to take his spot. The fear is that he’s going to be the third or fourth starter and the rotation will be not nearly as strong as it needs to be. Whatever the positioning, he’ll be a starter come April 2024. We’ll see if that’s the case in September.