From his big league debut in 2015 through 2019, Mets left-hander Steven Matz had some hiccups and injury issues, but was a largely reliable mid-rotation starter, posting a 3.98 ERA across 547.2 innings.
In 2020, things fell apart.
Matz had a 9.68 ERA and 1.69 WHIP while allowing 4.1 HR/9 in 30.2 innings in the shortened campaign.
During the season, Matz lost his spot in the starting rotation and was moved to the bullpen. When he returned to the rotation on Sept. 18, the results were again disastrous -- Matz surrendered six runs in 2.2 innings.
The wreckage that was Matz's 2020 campaign has cast doubt on what his role will be in 2021 and made what would have been the Mets' simple and obvious procedural move of offering him a contract before the non-tender deadline in December something to be curious about.
Matz had the highest average fastball velocity and slider velocity of his career and the best strikeout rate of his career (10.57) in 2020. So what went wrong?
A look at his advanced numbers shows...
Matz's pitches were barreled up 13.5 percent of the time, which was in the bottom four percent of all pitchers in baseball
The average exit velocity against him was 91.5 percent, which was in the bottom five percent
His hard hit rate allowed was 49 percent, which was in the bottom three percent
To put it simply: his pitches found the middle of the plate way too often and when hitters connected, they hit the ball hard and often hit it very far.
For a pitcher like Matz, who had success during the first five years of his career, the Mets should be hopeful that he can find it again. But they can't bank on it happening. And therein lies the problem.
As things currently stand, the Mets have Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, and David Peterson as three of their five starting pitchers heading into the 2021 season.
Beyond those three, the Mets are expected to add to the rotation through free agency, whether it's a big fish like Trevor Bauer or someone from the second tier such as Jake Odorizzi or Masahiro Tanaka.
Where does that leave Matz?
While the Mets should ponder all their options, it would arguably be a bit foolish to non-tender Matz. He is still relatively inexpensive, will only be getting a one-year commitment, and there's still a solid track record to work with.
If the Mets do indeed tender Matz a contract, though, he will likely enter spring training much like he did in 2020 -- as one of several options for the final spot in the starting rotation.
The Mets' starting pitching depth is close to non-existent, which should afford Matz an opportunity to emerge from the pack if he can regain the form he displayed for much of the first five years of his big league career.
In the Mets' ideal world, Matz rebounds and rounds out the rotation, with Noah Syndergaard returning from Tommy John surgery at some point in June or July and perhaps taking that spot from him.
Where the above scenario would leave Matz in the middle of 2021 and after the season (he's set for free agency) remains to be seen, but it would at least mean he recovered to the point where he again established himself as a reliable starting pitcher. After the disaster that was 2020, that would be a win for both Matz and the Mets.