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Orioles should trade Brian Matusz if they can find a taker

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Brian Matusz has been with the Orioles organization for seven years, but maybe the time has finally come to part ways.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Matusz was drafted by the Orioles in 2008, 4th overall in 2008. Since he has yet to live up to his prospect status of the time (a #1 to #3 starter) and it's been almost 7 years now, it's pretty easy (and at the same time, hard) to call him a bust. Looking back at the 2008 draft, it was a pretty weak year for pitchers and assuming that's what the team was looking for they could have done a little better but its hard to point to something obvious. For reference, the next year they took Matt Hobgood even though Zack Wheeler, Mike Minor, and Drew Storen were available. That's bad.

Matusz was able to show some promise early on, especially in 2010 when he finished 5th in Rookie of the Year voting. 2011 though was nothing short of a disaster - he posted a FIP of 7.66 and a bWAR of -2.3. He was given another shot at starter in 2012, but after continuing to struggle he was moved to the bullpen by the end of that season and has been there ever since. The problem is that he has consistently struggled to get out right-handed batters, so he's shown almost no value as a starter and a lot of value as someone who can come in from the bullpen to face lefties. His ability to get David Ortiz out alone might almost be enough of a reason to keep him. But, he has been inconsistent even as a reliever and given the Orioles bullpen crunch going into 2015 and other teams' desire for lefty relievers, does it make sense to trade him?

Over the offseason, the Orioles acquired Wesley Wright. Wright and Matusz are both lefty middle relievers. You could argue Wright was brought on to replace Andrew Miller, except that Miller actually replaced Ryan Webb last season and now Webb is out of options. Since the team seemed to be pretty high on Webb last offseason (and his performance last year was pretty good) I don't see him just being released for nothing. Anyway, Wright vs. Matusz:

Matusz

IP

ERA

ERA+

FIP

WHIP

fWAR

Career

470.2

4.95

84

4.44

1.46

4.5

2014

51.2

3.48

110

4.00

1.316

0.2

2015

(ZiPS)

52

3.63

-

3.73

1.23

0.3

Wright

IP

ERA

ERA+

FIP

WHIP

fWAR

Career

299.2

4.17

97

4.27

1.402

0.1

2014

48.1

3.17

121

3.44

1.386

0.3

2015

(ZiPS)

50.7

3.73

-

3.88

1.30

0.1

Data taken from Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. Career numbers include 2014.

I decided to include 2014 in each player's career numbers as well as look at last year separately because I thought it was important to look at the numbers both ways to judge each player. Second, Matusz's numbers include his time as a starter, which may make for a slightly unfair comparison but ultimately I decided to include them to give the full picture of what he's done as a pitcher.

As you'll see, these guys really aren't that different. Last year especially saw very similar performances, with Wright getting a slight edge. In 2015, ZiPS projects Matusz to be better. I'm guessing that's because last year Wright was pitching in the NL and there's going to be some impact on his performance now in the AL East. Seems fair. But ultimately, the difference between 0.3 WAR and 0.1 is really nothing. So what else distinguishes these guys?

If you ask any Orioles fan for his/her thoughts on Matusz, you'd probably hear something along the lines of "He can't get right-handed batters out". It's true he does have more difficulty with that than LHB, but what about Wright? Can't the same be said of him? Yes...just to a lesser extent.

Career Splits

Matusz

Wright

OPS vs. LHP

.620

.646

OPS vs. RHP

.861

.833

Difference

.241

.187

Still, it's not a huge advantage for Wright. He does better against RHB, but worse against LHB. The last thing I looked at was contract status:


Matusz

Wright

Age

28

30

2015 Salary

$3.2M

$1.7M

FA Year

2017

2016

This may be it. Matusz avoided arbitration this year by signing for $3.2M, almost twice as much as Wright even though they appear to be the same pitcher. Matusz has one more more year of team control (which makes him attractive to other teams in a trade). On the other hand Wright is only signed for one year, so if he does poorly the Orioles can simply not re-sign him. It's also hard to see the team giving Matusz a free-agent contract. I'm guessing his performance as a lefty specialist is good enough that someone else will offer him more money. Finally, Matusz followed up a strong end to the season last year (1.98 ERA, 2.37 FIP in August and September) with a good spring so far (1.46 ERA in 12.1 IP) which, combined with his current arbitration status, probably puts him at peak trade value. Maybe someone may even try to make him a starter again, though that would probably be a bad idea.

So I figure the team has two options:

- Trade Matusz, and keep Wright and Webb

- Keep Matusz and Wright, DFA Webb

Note: Webb likely has no trade value after the Orioles optioned him to AAA last year and his impending free agent status after this year. So I don't consider him being traded one of the options.

The only thing that might give the team hesitation is losing another LHP and being left with a very right-handed rotation and bullpen. T.J. McFarland is around too, but I think he may have to start the season at Norfolk to make room for Logan Verrett. Still, trading Matusz would get them something in return, free up $3.2M in payroll, and relieve

So: Should the Orioles trade Matusz? Yes. It's hard to see Matusz having a future with this team, so they should sell high on him now and move on.