On November 3, Steven Matz became a free agent. The Toronto Blue Jays have until Sunday, November 7, to make a Qualifying Offer to him. Should the Blue Jays extend a Qualifying Offer to Matz?
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The Blue Jays acquired Steven Matz from the New York Mets on January 27, 2021, for Josh Winckowski, Yennsy Diaz and Sean Reid-Foley. Matz performed poorly in 2020, as evidenced by his 9.68 ERA and 4th percentile xERA. The 2020 season did not suggest that Matz would likely receive a Qualifying Offer after the 2021 campaign. However, Matz’s 2021 changed that probability. Let’s examine why the Blue Jays should extend a Qualifying Offer to Matz.
Please note that the 2021 FanGraphs data pertains to starting pitchers with a minimum of 50 innings pitched (180 pitchers). Unless otherwise indicated, FanGraphs is the source of all data.
Standard performance measures
- Matz’s fWAR was 2.8, which was 75th percentile.
- His ERA, FIP and xERA percentile rankings were 63rd, 71st and 62nd, respectively.
- Concerning ERA, Matz’s first-half ERA was 38th percentile, but 85th percentile in the second. However, his xERA was 58th percentile in each half. In other words, bad luck affected his ERA in the April to June period, and good luck helped in the July to October season segment.
- Other than missing 18 days after testing positive for COVID-19, Matz was healthy for the 2021 season.
- Matz was slightly better than the median for the season in terms of K%-BB% (56th percentile). He was 47th percentile in K% and 68th in BB%.
- One area to highlight is that his relative ranking in K% declined from the first half of the season (61st percentile) but fell to 38th percentile in the July 1-October 3 period.
Game Score is a metric designed to measure the quality of a starter’s outing.
To determine Matz’s consistency, I examined how his Game Scores compared to other starters with similar ERAs. To do so, I selected the five pitchers directly ahead of him in ERA (with a minimum of 21 starts) and five starters directly below him. Please see Table 1 for the results.
In my opinion, Matz was relatively consistent during the 2021 campaign, as evidenced by the fact that 79% of his starts were in the 31-70 Game Score range. Also, of his 29 starts, the average Game Score for his first 14 starts was 51; it was 54 for the final 15 outings. For the season, Matz’s average Game Score was 52; Robbie Ray‘s was 60.
Starter performance levels
Let’s see where Matz slots into a five-man rotation.
For argument’s sake, assume that a #1 starter’s fWAR lies within the 81st to 100th percentile of starter fWARs. A #2 starter’s fWAR resides in the 61st to 80th percentile, and so on. Also, one can separate other critical metrics into percentile bands for starters. For the 2021 campaign and 2015-2019 seasons, the average breakpoints are as follows:
- The fWAR, ERA, FIP, and xERA breakpoints for a #1 starter are 3.0, 3.44, 3.66 and 3.53, respectively
- The fWAR, ERA, FIP, and xERA breakpoints for a #2 starter are 2.0, 4.00, 4.10 and 4.03, respectively
- The fWAR, ERA, FIP, and xERA breakpoints for a #3 starter are 1.2, 4.51, 4.56 and 4.43, respectively
- The fWAR, ERA, FIP, and xERA breakpoints for a #4 starter are 0.4, 5.23, 5.14 and 4.93, respectively
I obtained the xERA data from Statcast, the other numbers from FanGraphs. The number of starters per Statcast included in a season ranged from a low of 151 (2018) to a high of 158 (2017).
The breakpoints outlined could be a common reference point in discussing whether Starter A is a #1, a #2, etc. Ideally, the more #1s in a rotation, the better.
For the 2021 season, Matz’s fWAR, ERA, FIP and xERA were 2.8, 3.82, 3.79 and 4.06, respectively. In 2021, Matz was a #2 in terms of fWAR, ERA and FIP, and he was a #3 concerning xERA. Given the noted guideline and his consistency and xERA, in my opinion, Matz is a strong #3, at a minimum. His candidacy to receive a Qualifying Offer is looking pretty, pretty, pretty good.
The Qualifying Offer
The Blue Jays have until November 7 to extend a Qualifying Offer to Matz. The deal would be for one season at a salary of $18.4 million. If Matz receives a Qualifying Offer, the possible outcomes are as follows:
- Matz accepts the offer and will be under contract for the 2022 season. Under the current CBA, no team could issue another Qualifying Offer to Matz in the future.
- Matz declines the offer and signs with another team. The Blue Jays would receive a compensation pick, approximately the #70 selection in the 2022 June Amateur Draft.
- He declines the offer but signs a multi-year contract with the Blue Jays. Under the current CBA, the Blue Jays would forfeit their ability to issue a Qualifying Offer to Matz after the conclusion of the 2022 campaign.
Jon Becker, a Roster Resource Assistant with FanGraphs, has complied a database of contract estimates for the 2022 free agents. Becker estimates that Matz could earn a 3-year, $36 million contract as a free agent, and I have appraised that a 3-year, $39.2 million contract is reasonable. See Table 2 for the calculation.
Suppose that Matz’s projected 2022 1.8 fWAR is realistic. At $8 million per fWAR, Matz could receive a 1-year deal at or near $14.4 million, not the $18.4 million required under the Qualifying Offer. The $4 million difference would be an overpay. However, I would extend the $18.4 million Qualifying Offer to Matz for the following reasons:
- The $4 million can be viewed as an insurance premium to guard against the possibility that the Blue Jays cannot come to terms with Ray or do not acquire a Ray-like starter.
- The Qualifying Offer does not preclude Matz from signing a longer-term contract with the Blue Jays.
- A 2022 fWAR of 2.3 will make Matz’s one-year deal fair value at $18.4 million.
The last word
Matz had a bounce-back season in 2021, and his performance was in-line with a strong #3 or a weak #2 starter. The xERA and FIP metrics indicate that the 2022 season will be another better-than-average campaign for Matz. The Toronto Blue Jays should extend the $18.4 million Qualifying Offer to him because it is a reasonable price to pay by a team with post-season aspirations in 2022.
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Bob was a St. Louis Cardinals fan until the Blue Jays arrived on the baseball scene, although he still has a soft spot for the Cards. Similar to straddling the Greenwich Meridian, as depicted in the avatar, Bob applies sabermetrics when applicable, but his heart tells him that Lou Brock belongs in the Hall of Fame.