by Paul West
The Mets begin a crucial homestand tonight, in which they’ll continue to try climbing the National League Wild Card standings–with the top of the NL East still a ways away, but increasingly in view. Taking the ball will be Steven Matz, the young lefty who burst on the scene in a big way in a big way in 2015 but has since fallen into disfavor among some Mets fans. This disfavor is partly the result of factors beyond Matz’s control-his numerous, recurrent injuries–and partly factors subject to his control, namely, a difficulty producing good starts when he hasn’t got his best stuff. This placed him in stark contract with ace Jacob deGrom, whose rise to elite status was partly due to his renowned mental toughness and apparent immunity to game pressure. Matz’s narrative was also partly sabotaged by his red-hot debut, in which he showcased ‘special’ stuff in a 7-2 win while driving in four runs on three hits.
The frustration directed at Matz has certainly been somewhat deserved; but it’s also been largely unfair. In a sense, Matz is being taken to task for not being elite as expected, but this narrative ignores major factors in his place on the team. First, the fact that he’s capable of producing valuable outings–as he did on August 7th, when he took the mound in Atlanta and held the Braves to one run in six innings. Second, he’s still only 28 years old, with lots of time to continue progressing if he stays healthy. Third, he still occasionally produces the sort of elite outing which has partly led to fans’ frustration. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly: even if he never quite becomes what many wanted him to be, most teams would love to have a fourth or fifth starter with elite stuff and flashes of greatness and you can certainly win a pennant with him at the end of a rotation. In fact, the Mets have already done just that–and he’s performed adequately, with a 3.68 postseason ERA and a number of memorable moments on his resume.
Matz has a 2.14 ERA at Citi Field this season, he’s taking the mound with a chance at another high-pressure start like the one in Atlanta, and now is not the time to chastise him for not being an ace. Now is the time to be grateful for the embarrassment of rotation riches which positions us to complain about him in the first place. Steven Matz has at times faltered under the weight of expectation, but he’s been more valuable than has been acknowledged; he can continue reclaiming his narrative down the stretch.