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Scouting Orioles Pitching Prospect Brian Matusz

May 21, 2008 BY ALEX EISENBERG 24 Comments

*Updated on 4-7-10: Click here for an updated scouting report on Brian Matusz…by watching Matusz on an extended basis, I’m in line with the thinking he’s a potential No. 1 starter. That’s why it’s always best to watch somebody extensively before judging them. That’s not always possible to do, but it’s always the best way.

*Edited on 8-13-08: I’ve been thinking about it, watched a little more video on Matusz, and I’ve decided to tweak my grading of him. I think his upside is a tick higher than the 8 I originally gave him. I don’t see his upside as a true No. 1, but his breaking stuff is good enough where he could become a good No. 2. His stock will rise even further should he add velocity to his fastball. I also updated the final paragraph of this article to give my current assessment of Matusz’s value as the No. 4 pick.

Today, I am reporting on a prospect that has me somewhat conflicted: college pitcher Brian Matusz. The 21 year old, 6-foot-4 lefty from San Diego is a slated to be a top-5 pick in the upcoming June draft.

We’re going to weave back-and-forth between analyzing Matusz’s mechanics and the quality of his stuff — specifically his fastball — since I believe the two attributes are directly related to one another.

The biggest question I and others have about Matusz is the quality of his fastball. Matusz’s fastball sits anywhere from 88 – 92 mph, pumping it up to 94 at times. Below is a clip of Matusz’s fastball:

College baseball pitcher Brian Matusz

His velocity overall has been inconsistent and I think his mechanics are a big reason why. Let’s compare him to what may be the best pitching prospect in baseball right now in Clayton Kershaw:

Side view of baseball prospect Brian Matusz Brian Matusz
Clayton Kershaw's Mechanics Clayton Kerhsaw

The camera angles of the clips are different, but we can still see the differences in stride length between both players and the difference in separation between each player’s torso and hips. Below is the key sequence of events:

Brian Matusz's stride length Matusz
Clayton Kershaw's stride length Kershaw

Matusz has a noticeably shorter stride. This is problematic because his fastball loses that sneakiness quality to it. It doesn’t have that late action where the pitch appears to increase in velocity just before it reaches home plate. Kershaw does have this quality in his fastball and one reason for this is because he is releasing the ball a little closer to home plate than Matusz because of the longer stride.

With that being said, Matusz makes up for this with a release point that is difficult to pick up.

Also in view from the above side shot is the hip and torso separation. At the end of the animation, you have two ovals highlighting each pitcher’s torso and hips once their pitching arm has reachied its ready-to-throw position. Which pitcher to you looks like he has created more separation between his torso and hips? In my view, that pitcher is Kershaw.

The significance of this separation is the tension created between the pitcher’s upper body and hips; at foot plant, Kershaw’s upper body is about to uncoil fury toward home plate, bringing the arm along with it. Matusz is less efficient with his body in being able to produce velocity.

So there is a reason why Matusz, a projectable lefty, has yet to add much velocity to his fastball while in college.

Nevertheless, Matusz does possesses two off-speed pitches that rate anywhere from above average to plus: his curveball and change-up.

His curveball has a sweeping action and is extremely tough on left handers, while he is able to maintain his arm speed on his change-up and consistently get hitters out in front. Matusz also features a slider that can be rated anywhere between average and above average.

Another major strength of Matusz is his control. Below you’ll see a big reason why his control is so good:

Brian Matusz's front-side mechanics

Watch Matusz’s glove; notice how it “firms” up as his front shoulder begins to open. This helps in having a consistent release point and lessens the stress put on his shoulder.

The “Safe” Pick

Matusz often gets labeled as the “safe” pick, which is a term I hate to put it bluntly. The reason is because there are no safe picks. The closest thing to a safe pick in the major league baseball draft would be an elite college hitter or pitchers with almost no question marks in terms of stuff, control, mechanics, and mental make-up. However, the label “safe” is often applied to pitchers that have an advanced feel for pitching, plus control, and are seemingly close to major league ready. I’m usually wary of players given the “safe” label.

But Matusz has a bunch of qualities that distinguishes him from other “safe” picks. First, his numbers are excellent, sporting strong peripherals across the board. A big red flag for pitchers labeled as safe is the numbers don’t match the overall hype being given to the player. In Matusz’s case, they do.

Matusz also still has some projection left, so he could possibly add a couple more MPH to his fastball as he matures and/or tweaks his mechanics. Add in good control and a couple of plus (or close to plus) pitches and Matusz does offer a lot to like.

Final Thoughts

You can find an average upside starter or an average everyday position player in later rounds. However, if you take signability out of the equation, I would prefer to draft the player with the best chance of reaching elite status even if that pick might be a little more risky overall. Heading into the draft, I felt Aaron Crow was that best bet. I still do, but the gap has narrowed considerably for me since. Part of that is Crow’s decision not to sign with the Nationals (delaying his development by a year) and part of it is my opinion of Matusz has grown.

Grade:
8.5 Upside, Low-Average Probability
6.5 Downside, Low Probability

For an explanation of the grading scale, please click here

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  • 24 Comments »

    • Tony said:

      Excellent work!!…. been looking for this kind of info on prospects for years!

    • admin (author) said:

      Thanks, Tony!!

      Definitely much appreciated.

    • Welcome to College Football News | College Football said:

      [...] Scouting Orioles Draft Pick Brian Matusz [...]

    • Holgash said:

      I like your report on Matusz, but I have to disagree in that I see a lot of potential in him. If he does have great control and develops that even more then he could become an elite pitcher, like Greg Maddux (except not as accurate but throws a little harder). Also, I have a feeling from what I have seen of Tillman and Arrieta that one of them could mature into an Ace as well, I feel as if Arrieta is more likely because he has a four-pitch arsenal, a power pitcher, is very mature, and he has the intellect and just gets it. Anyways, Matusz was the best pick for the O’s because he is the most polished pitcher and will be able to help SOON, this year they have the 5th overall pick and might have another high pick next year, which they can use on riskier picks that have the ability to reach an elite level.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Holgash,

      I agree with some of what you said with just a couple quibbles.

      In terms of potential, I think Matusz is a No. 2…it’s not his control that is an issue, but his fastball, specifically it’s velocity and I know some have questioned how much movement it has. I don’t think he has a lot of development left…he is what he is basically.

      Tillman, the youngest of the big three also has a No. 2 starter upside and has the best chance to make that leap into ace status because of his age and projection.

      Arrieta I think has a chance to be a No. 2 type but more than likely he’ll settle in as a No. 3 or 4 starter…he has a better fastball than Matusz, but he doesn’t have the secondary stuff that Matusz has and he doesn’t have that great plus breaking pitch like Tillman…his arsenal is deeper than Tillman’s, but not as deep as Matusz. It’s mostly Arrieta’s command that is holding him back right now.

    • Holgash said:

      Thanks for the reply and I definitely see where you are coming from. I have a question, though, I head an Arrieta Interview and he seems to have an understanding and intellect about him that is rare, so if he really does and is able to put everything together do you think he has the potential to become an ace?

    • Holgash said:

      I just feel like Arrieta is more of a wildcard out of the three. If he puts it all together he could be an ace, but if he doesn’t he’s probably a number 3, 4, or he’s in the bullpen. We’ll see how he develops, though, and what he does at AA.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Arrieta has a good head on his shoulders. I’ve listened to his interviews as well. But I also think it’s hard to draw too much on those. Tillman and Matusz (especially) are also supposed to be very heady pitchers. It really comes down to…how good is the quality of your stuff, can you locate your fastball and throw your breaking stuff for strikes, and can you do it consistently?

      I think Arrieta is the biggest wild card in that he’s the biggest mystery of the three. His stuff is a little inconsistent, his fastball command and velocity come and go, so there is always a chance that something just clicks. But if he puts everything together, I think he’s more of a No. 2 rather than an ace. Next year is definitely a big year for him as Double-A is a really good barometer to see what kind of pitcher he is.

    • Holgash said:

      Thanks for the reply, everything you said makes a lot of sense. I am also probably very biased being an O’s fan, but I had a few more questions. First, are you going to write anything about Tommy Hanson the amazing Braves prospect? Also, do you think that Tillman could have a transformation like Hanson one of these next two years? Lastly, I think it would be smart for the O’s, with the 5th pick this year, to draft a Pitcher with the upside of an Ace, if there is one, unless there is a great 3B, SS, or LF prospect. Is this what you think would be in the best interest of the Orioles in terms of trying to become a World Series contender in the near future?

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      I’m actually an Orioles fan as well, so I have to be aware of my biases.

      Yes, I will be writing about Hanson when I do the Braves top list. Very impressive arm.

      The thing about Hanson is he’s always been hard thrower so for Tillman to be moved into that class, he would have to add velocity. It’s possible, but you never want to count on that. Tillman’s fastball does play up because it’s so deceptive coming out of his hand. I really don’t the two are that different in how the project. Hanson has velocity, but he struggles against lefties. The change-ups of both players are works in progress.

      I’ve always been somebody with the philosophy of drafting a position player in the first round followed by stockpiling pitchers because position players are less risky. But I have to admit it’s very tempting to draft somebody that is a high upside, close to MLB ready pitcher and just continue adding to the collection of high level pitching prospects we have. If you’re drafting a guy with the upside of a No. 3 with more feel/control than stuff, then go with the position player. I’m not really sure how the first couple of picks will play out, so I’ll have to look further into the kinds of players that might be there. I would say it’s in the best interest of the Orioles acquire the best talent they can, no matter the position. Tie breaker goes to positional need.

    • O say can you see? « The Splendid Splitter said:

      [...] prospects Adam Jones and Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, and two other minor leaguers. Next, he drafted Brian Matusz in the 2008 draft and this past January locked-up home-grown talent and future All-Star outfielder [...]

    • blackout said:

      One section of the mechanics you haven’t addresed which seems to be quite a contrast is the position of the front leg for each pitcher, perhaps the logical end result of the stride? While they seem to be moving in a similar motion, Matsuz seems to stiffen his right knee and straighten the leg out, causing him to finish *taller*. Kershaw comes in knee bent and maintains the position right through finish and stays lower to the ground. I don’t know much about mechanics, so I’m interested to know which would be more effective, or if there would be a difference in effectiveness.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Those are good observations, blackout, and their finishes are something I sorta glossed over when I did the article.

      A lot of it has to do with the strides of both players. Kershaw’s is longer, so he therefore lands in a more bent position. Matusz lands somewhat straight-legged. As you mentioned, he’s also taller during his wind-up, but it should be noted that Matusz has cleaned up his mechanics a little since I wrote this article and he applies more bend to his back leg.

      The front leg acts as a sorta like a shock absorber. It takes the brunt of the force and acts as a base for the pitcher. Put simply, when a pitcher lands stiffly, it’s much less effective at, the pitcher places more stress on their arm, so in this sense Kershaw’s finish is better because he does a better job of getting over his front leg and getting better extension out in front. However, there is no golden rule that a pitcher must have front leg as bent as Kershaw. The pitcher’s front leg just needs to act as a base for the hips to aggressively turn on. Hope this all makes sense…I’m not sure I’m doing a great job of explaining it here.

    • blackout said:

      Thanks for the reply, Alex. Matusz’s finish actually alarmed me a bit, and my surmise was that it could be preventing him from achieving full velocity, whereas Kershaw seems to be getting every ounce out of his pitches with his motion. Matusz would also be releasing the ball sooner than Kershaw, which I assume would cause his FB to play down slightly and Kershaw’s to play up. Actually got to see Kershaw pitch a little on t.v. the other day and his mechanics had changed very little from your posted example. He still has some work to do, but he’s an extremely physical pitcher and I can see why so much excitement surrounds him. I’m glad to hear that Matusz has cleaned things up a bit, and it appeared from the video above that some mechanical tweaks could potentially add some heat to the FB and help it play up by using his natural length. He seems like an arm slot pitcher, and in the long run I think his success will rely on his ability to throw all of his pitches from the same slot. It also sounds as if he FB could use improvement, and now I have a lot better idea of why that is.

    • blackout said:

      To clarify, I should have said that it would seem that Matusz would release the ball further from home plate rather than *sooner*. Words.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Matusz’s finish was definitely part of the problem, I agree, but it’s also about everything he does to get to that point. For example the separation he generates between his torso and hips could be improved by potentially by an increase in stride length, but the problem is that he would have to adjust the timing of everything else to account for that longer stride. So when you change one thing, you change everything. What Matusz did was incorporate more subtle adjustments to make his present mechanics more efficient.

      I basically agree with everything you said in your post. I think the adjustments made by Matusz have helped him maintain a velocity between 91 and 93, touching 94. He isn’t in the high 80′s as much as he was. But his success will be based mostly on how he commands his above average to plus secondary offerings.

      I haven’t been able to see Matusz extensively, but the scouting reports on his secondary offerings plus his excellent control sold me on him. I’ve been slightly disappointed with the results thus far. He’s been racking up the strikeouts and he’s been posting solid ground ball rates, something he didn’t do in college, so that was a nice surprise. But his control hasn’t been as advertised, and his command hasn’t been sharp because he’s been way too hittable. I think part of it is him trying to find his rhythm and I feel a breakout is performance is coming soon, but he hasn’t come in and dominated as he was expected to do. My opinion of him hasn’t changed, but I’d like to see some better results, hopefully soon.

    • Wieters gets the call! said:

      You guys are funny.

      Since when do you need to hit 94 on the radar gun to be a #1 starter? Throwing fast doesn not a #1 starter make.

      The O’s currently have a bunch of guys who could eventually step into that #1 role. Arietta, Matusz, Tillman, and now Hernandez who has been called up, assuming he can harness his control, he is unhittable at times.

      Gotta love you amateur scouts… :-)

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Wieters gets the call!,

      Since when did I say you need to hit 94 on the radar gun to be a #1 starter? Of course, I’m not going to say it doesn’t help.

      The message in this article must have went completely over your head if the only thing you took from it was an interpretation of me saying throwing fast makes a #1 starter, which is far from the truth.

      A No. 1 starter is a pitcher that has command of plus stuff to go along with the knowledge of how to pitch. Most No. 1 guys also have an abundance of confidence in themselves no matter the situation. With that said, I am a big fastball guy and feel it’s necessary to be able to pitch off the fastball, which is something Matusz didn’t do in college. However, he does have a good enough fastball to pitch off of though it will require an adjustment. There are a few No. 1 starters that don’t have plus velocity, but make up for it with movement/deception and a plus-plus offering somewhere in their arsenal. Matusz doesn’t have the best fastball movement and while his secondary pitches all grade out as above average to plus, there is no plus-plus offering in his arsenal IMO.

      Best case scenario for Matusz I think is close to a No. 1, but probably not quite at that level.

    • O's Fan said:

      Alex,

      Having watched Brian Matusz extensively in college, I think your analysis is pretty close to spot on. However, I do think he has a better fastball than you think. Over his three years at San Diego, and his short time in the minors, he has really developed into an outstanding “pitcher”. As a freshman, he was more of a thrower as he tried to pump fastballs by hitters. He regularly hit 94-97 on the gun, but would get tired by the 5th-6th inning. As a sophomore, he really learned how to pitch and by his junior year, his change up had become so good, he began pitching off of it (because I think most people expected the fastball), but he would keep people off-balanced with the 92-94 MPH fastball and a devastating curve. He would even reach back at times and crank it in there around 94-96, but is much more comfortable at 92-94. He is now able to stay in games longer and has learned how to attack hitters. Plus, like you mentioned, he has a bit of a deceptive delivery and has a bit of a unique arm angle that makes his pitches a little more difficult to pick up. The main thing I have been impressed with is is his ability to adapt and learn the art of pitching. The comparisons to Cole Hammels are pretty accurate. I think the O’s have a good one who will develop into a quality No. 1.

      O’s Fan

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      O’s fan,

      I definitely appreciate the first-hand report. The one thing I might have to dispute is the 94 – 97 gun readings since I haven’t seen any publication mention he was throwing that hard, but his fastball is probably better than I make it seem.

      From my point of view, becoming a true No. 1 starter is incredibly hard to do. I think Matusz brings a package that’s close to a No. 1 starter level, but it’s not quite there yet. Now, with that said, I can see his stuff playing up because he has the intelligence and poise to get hitters out even when his stuff isn’t at its best.

      Plus, when you have a guy like Matusz that projects out as a solid No. 2, it doesn’t take too much for that guy to make the leap into No. 1 starter territory and I wouldn’t be surprised if Matusz is able to make that leap. But for now, he’s still a solid No. 2.

    • Nico said:

      Any thoughts on the “inverse W” motion in Matusz delivery (or your take on that motion in general)?

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Nico, I assume you’re referring to the inverted-W. I didn’t really notice much of one though taking a second look at him, he does appear to show a slight inverted arm action. However, I think there are some mind tricks being played. Because Matusz bends forward at the waist, it appears the elbow goes above shoulder’s height though in reality if he stayed more upright, the shoulder would look at or below shoulder’s level. I also think we’re dealing with a matter of degrees. If Matusz does have an inverted arm action, it’s not an extreme one and he doesn’t throw with a ton of effort, so therefore he’s not putting as much stress on his shoulder.

      With that said, it’s been pointed out to me that Matusz has a timing problem because his forearm isn’t vertical at the time his foot plants. My counter argument would be if Matusz had a true timing problem, you wouldn’t see the plus command Matusz demonstrates. Some pitchers have a quick enough arm to overcome any perceived timing problems and I think Matusz is certainly one of them. He still may get injured as his mechanics are not perfect and pitching in general is an unnatural and nasty thing to do to your arm.

    • Kaer said:

      This report was great … and the comments and responses were also way above what I expected from randomly trolling the internet for information.
      I read LOTS of baseball reports/articles/blogs/what-have-you/etc. and this was extremely helpful. The Hype-machine for players can really misinform you of a players talents, as can their draft pick position. First, I have to admit, that fantasy baseball brought me here in this case. I was attempting to compare scouting reports/analysis of Matusz vs. Mat Latos for long term upside, or even 2010 upside. After all, the internet is all the ‘common-man’ has at his disposal. Do you have anything to add Alex, about Matusz (or Latos for that matter), after seeing him(them) pitch at the major league level?

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Hi Kaer,

      Thank you for the kind words.

      I’ll start with Latos. Haven’t seen him much since the call-up though I have seen some highlights. His arm speed is really tremendous when you watch it high quality video. The fastball just explodes out of his hand. I haven’t seen enough of his curveball and change-up this year to really comment on them, but I’ll say this…as an extreme fly ball pitcher pitching in Petco, he could put up some very impressive ERAs because of how large that park is. He’s been a little homer prone, which is going to happen with how many fly balls he gives up, but Petco should really help in suppressing that number.

      As for Matusz, I’ve seen much more of him than Latos because I live in the DC/Baltimore market. His fastball is better than when he came out. It’s sneaky. He doesn’t always command it well, but he does a good job of pitching in and out of the strike zone and he’s not afraid to pitch inside. He’s got an excellent feel for pitching and a large array of secondary pitches that he commands well. His curve and slider are actually pretty similar pitches. He hasn’t really established a good feel for his curveball yet, but when it’s on I think it’s his second best pitch because it has a sharper break and better depth.

      Overall, I think Matusz is the better pitcher, but he might not put up the better numbers because of where he plays and the division he plays in. Both are excellent prospects though.