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Cardinals To Sign Steven Matz

The Cardinals are signing free agent starter Steven Matz to a four-year, $44MM guarantee, reports Jeff Passan of ESPN (Twitter link). Incentives could push the total up to $48MM, per Passan.

Matz reportedly fielded offers from eight clubs, and interest was robust enough that he’d been expected to sign before Thanksgiving. Teams’ affinity for the 30-year-old is also evident in the eventual contract terms, as Matz’s deal fairly handily tops MLBTR’s three-year, $27MM projection entering the winter.

The left-hander has been a reliable rotation member for the bulk of his career. He’s eclipsed 150 innings and posted an ERA between 3.82 and 4.21 in each of the past three 162-game seasons. His peripherals haven’t been quite as impressive, but Matz has typically offered near league average rate numbers while reliably taking the ball every fifth day over the past couple of years.

Matz has never had elite swing-and-miss stuff. That continued to be the case in 2021, as his 22.3% strikeout percentage and 9.4% swinging strike rate were both a bit shy of the respective league average marks (22.6% and 10.9%) for starting pitchers. That’s arguably less alarming for St. Louis than it would be for other clubs around the league, as the Cardinals have reportedly been seeking pitchers best equipped to take advantage of an elite St. Louis defense behind him. Matz seems to fit that bill, as he annually posts walk rates lower than most and typically induces ground balls at a slightly higher than average rate.

He’s also of the harder-throwing starters available, averaging 94.5 MPH on his sinker in each of the past two years. That’s particularly rare for a left-handed starter, with only seven other southpaws (minimum 100 innings) throwing harder on average in 2021. He’ll add a different look to a Cardinals rotation that otherwise projects to include right-handers Adam WainwrightJack FlahertyMiles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson.

There’s plenty of appeal for the St. Louis front office, but this deal comes with its share of risk for the team. While Matz was a solid performer in three of the past four seasons, his 2020 campaign was nothing short of a disaster. He was tagged for a 9.68 ERA across 30 2/3 innings that year, serving up a staggering 14 home runs in that time. Including that showing deals a heavy blow to Matz’s otherwise fairly solid recent work.

Going back to the start of 2018, he owns a cumulative 4.36 ERA/4.55 FIP in just under 500 frames. That’s not particularly impressive production in aggregate, worse than that of Anthony DeSclafani, who signed for three years and $36MM with the Giants on Monday. DeSclafani’s a year older than Matz is, and perhaps the Cardinals are simply willing to write off 2020 as a small sample in an overall anomalous year.

Homers have been an issue for Matz for the bulk of his career in spite of his ground-ball proclivities, though, as he’s generally given up a lot of hard contact when batters have managed to get the ball in the air against him. The 2021 campaign was the first of his career in which he’s allowed a homer per fly ball rate lower than the league mark. Whether he can sustain that kind of success keeping the ball in the yard could go a long way towards determining whether he’ll continue to post a sub-4.00 ERA over the coming seasons.

More to come

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