Brian Matusz, starting pitcher
What happened to him? Can he come back and help the Orioles?
Matusz, who pitched Orioles’ rotation in the second half of 2009 and all of 2010 as essentially a league-average pitcher, hurt himself at the end of spring training in 2011 and missed the first two months of the season. When he returned, he had a terrible 2011 season; 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA in 12 starts, with 18 home runs allowed in less than 50 innings.
While I’m sure there’s been someone that young who’s had that bad of a season before, I can’t think of anyone. Most pitchers who have seasons that bad are either old-line veterans clearly at the end of the line, or pitchers (like Steve Blass in 1973) suffering from Steve Blass Syndrome. Matusz’ control wasn’t great, but it wasn’t Blass-bad; and he’s not a pitcher with an established track record (like, say, 1995 Mike Moore, although Moore’s season, though terrible, wasn’t as terrible as Matusz’. )
It’s tempting to attribute the season to his injury, but that explanation has a problem — Matusz actually pitched fairly well in his first few starts. Then he started struggling; he was sent to Norfolk; was recalled in September, and continued to pitch terribly. So, unless he was simply out of condition and wore down after a few starts, the injury doesn’t appear to be the reason he was so ineffective.
I saw him pitch two games in Norfolk — one on his injury rehab in late May and one after he was sent down. In each case, his line looked a lot better than he did — he got batters out consistently, but he didn’t look dominant. He struck batters out (7 in 5 innings, 6 in 7 innings), walked one batter in each start, and didn’t give up a lot of hits — but somehow, I didn’t watch him pitch and say “Wow! This guy is really good!”
My guess — and it’s only a guess – is that Matusz felt a lot of pressure to be a star. When he struggled, he felt more pressure to be outstanding, causing him to try to make perfect pitches. Then, when he continued to struggle, the Orioles sent him down to Norfolk instead of keeping him in the rotation and easing the pressure.
As I wrote earlier, there’s not much precedent for a year like Matusz’. If all goes well, he can be an effective, above-average innings eater. I don’t think he’ll ever be a great pitcher.