On Saturday, April 30th, I had a front-and-center look at Tyler Matzek, who has struggled to find his groove so far this season. His outing showcased both the upside that so many scouts and fans salivate over as well as the all to frequent moments when he simply can't throw the ball where he wants to.
Matzek sat at about 93 MPH with his fastball, which features some movement away from righthanded batters, but not a ton. He also threw plenty of changeups and slider/curves. His arm action was good when throwing the change and the down-and-away action to right handers makes the pitch at least average in my eyes. His slider/curve was the much more impressive pitch, featuring a lot of down-and-in movement to righthanded batters, but not a ton of "loop" as one would expect from a typical curve. This was the pitch that most hitters took for a strike, unable to gauge it quickly upon release, even from the right side. However, he lacked command of both his slider/curve and fastball most of the night, with the slider hitting the dirt often and the fastball tailing way outside, sometimes elevated.
At first glance, there was nothing awkward about Matzek's mechanics. His motion is simple and his arm slot is consistently three-quarters. After his inconsistent first inning, however, I really tried to focus on something, anything, that could be causing him to look so good with one batter, then so off the next. The one possible mechanical issue that came to light was where his landing foot planted and the way he threw "across" his body.
As you can see in my video, Matzek's front foot consistently landed toward the first base side of the mound, which causes his front shoulder to be pointing toward the left-hand batters box, rather than his target somewhere over the plate. It also could be an explanation as to why so many outside fastballs (to righties) ended up well off the plate outside.
Was this mechanical change premeditated or something that just started to happen? Did Matzek make the change or was it a pitching coach trying to work on something different? I don't have those answers, but the change, at least on the surface, seems to have led to a great deal of inconsistency with regard to command.
A lot of people don't like pitchers who throw across their body, both for mechanical and health reasons. However, it has certainly worked for Jered Weaver.
One thing throwing across the body does do is allow the pitcher to hide the ball better. As stated above, a lot of righthanded hitters didn't seem to pick up Matzek's pitches very well, especially the slider/curve.
The question now becomes: Is this a detrimental flaw or something that will work out for the best over time?
Matzek was quickly put into a bind in the first inning when the first two hitters reached base on errors. With runners on second and third and no one out, Matzek, who had not been in a rhythm to the first two batters anyway, walked Matt Davidson to load the bases.
Base loaded, no outs and Visalia's cleanup hitter Bobby Borchering at the plate. Here's what followed...
After the first inning, Matzek seemed to settle in, working briskly and effectively in innings two and three. In the fourth, things started to unravel a bit. Matzek allowed a single off of the third baseman's glove, a play that should have been made, but not an error. This put him back in the stretch, where he had not looked comfortable in the first inning. He walked the next hitter, setting up a first and second scenario, which led to a sacrifice bunt. With the infield back, Matzek then got a ground-out to short with the runner on third scoring on the play. The sudden struggle with location flowed into the next hitter, Jon Owings. Owings, noting this, sat dead red and got a fastball over the heart of the plate, which he deposited over the left-center wall for a two-run home run. Giving up the gopher ball clearly lit a fire under Matzek. Three extra-strength fastballs later and Matzek had racked up his seventh strikeout in four innings.
One inning later, Matzek was done. Five innings, three hits (one home run), three earned runs, two walks and seven strikeouts.
Matzek has the type of stuff you dream of finding in a lefthanded starter. That was evident from warm-ups to his first inning of work. However, also quite evident was his struggle to find consistency with any pitch location wise. If the change in where his plant foot lands is the current culprit of said command, then it may be something that can either be fixed or improved upon over time.
As of this moment, I don't see an ace. I see a lot of question marks.
Without the command, Matzek can still be a good MLB starter due to his ability to miss bats, but he has a lot of ruffles to iron out before that happens. The good thing is, at age 20, he has plenty of time to do so.
Charlie Saponara is a contributor to Project Prospect. You can follow all of his baseball writing on Twitter.