This isn’t our typical Player Review. I just can’t do a typical player review for Tyler Matzek, my favorite story of 2020. Quotes from the story come courtesy of a 2014 piece written by Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post.
“Even when things were going the right way, there was this overwhelming stress inside me that just kept building and building and building,” Matzek said recently while sipping coffee at a Starbucks in Southern California. “(Then) I just couldn’t hold that stress any longer and my game collapsed.”
“I don’t think this is going to define me by any means.”Matzek, 12/19/15
The Colorado Rockies, The Albuquerque Isotopes, The Boise Hawks, The Hartford Yardgoats, The Modesto Nuts, The Texas AirHogs, The Jackson Generals, The Mississippi Braves, The Gwinnett Braves, and finally, The Atlanta Braves. Tyler Matzek‘s journey battling performance anxiety from 2015 to 2020 is a book-worthy story of resilience and determination.
It was June 11, 2014 when Tyler Matzek put his name on the map for the Rockies, and as wild as this may be, made his debut against the Braves going 7 innings giving up 2 runs, 5 hits, 7 Ks, and 2 walks. He went on to pitch every 5th start for the rest of the 2014 season with a 4.04 ERA. The Rockies already had a few up and comers that plugged in at the top of the rotation, and with Matzek, the middle of the rotation was looking solid, as well. All eyes on 2015.
The Downhill Spiral
In Spring Training of 2015, Matzek was battling some small ailments and only collected 6 innings of work, but those were foreshadowing things to come. In those 6 innings, he struck out 7, but also walked 6. Still, he was getting people out and there wasn’t concern quite yet and Matzek managed to stay in the rotation’s plans.
The regular season started out okay for Matzek. In his first 2 outings, he pitched a total of 10 innings, only giving up 2 runs and walking 4. However, on his 3rd start of the year, he simply lost the plate and before Matzek could even blink, he had walked 15 batters in 12 innings over 3 starts. That earned him a trip to the Isotopes to “get right”. It didn’t work.
2015 and 2016
The next 2 years were a nightmare for Matzek. Riddled with performance anxiety, Matzek just lost his ability to throw the ball over the plate and no matter where he was, the results were the same.
- The Albuquerque Isotopes: 13.5 BB/9
- The Boise Hawks: 30.9 BB/9
- The Hartford Yardgoats: 22.9 BB/9
- The Modesto Nuts: 8.1 BB/9
2017, Love Conquers All
It was 2017, over 2 years into the battle with performance anxiety, Matzek’s anxiety had reached a peak and he was ready to quit baseball entirely, go back to school, and hit the restart button on his life. It was his wife that encouraged him to continue pitching.
“I told him, ‘This isn’t, obviously, where we planned to be, but I’ve seen you pitch, I know what you can do,’ ” she said. “I told him, ‘Don’t give up until you have tried your hardest to get back to where you need to be, back to where you belong.’ As cheesy as it sounds, I knew that once he believed in himself again, he would get back to the big leagues.Lauren Matzek
2018, The Turning Point
Out of baseball entirely in 2017 and throwing on his own, Matzek got his next chance in 2018 with the AirHogs, an Independent League team in Grand Prairie, Texas. It was then that he met a coaching legend’s son, Billy Martin Jr., who convinced Matzek to go back to throwing from a higher arm angle that he used early in his career. Like Super Mario and a mushroom, this unlocked a serious upgrade in Matzek’s command and velocity, and gave him the confidence to compete again:
“That one little thing changed my command and my (velocity) — everything,” Matzek said. Then I just continued to throw, throw, throw. I think that got the yips out of me.It also enabled me to relax. I wasn’t thinking about the mechanics anymore. I was just thinking about pitching and my delivery got much smoother. It was easier than it had been in a long time.”Tyler Matzek
Still, the results weren’t pretty…yet, but were getting better:
- Texas Airhogs: 6.7 BB/9
With newfound control, repetition allowed Matzek to refocus on pitching again and slowly, his command got better amidst a velocity outbreak. The yips were fading and he was chomping at the bit to get back on the mound.
2019, the Shot
In January of 2019, after a trip to Driveline in the offseason, Matzek caught some eyes, and received the call he had been waiting for since 2017. The Diamondbacks inked him to a Minor League deal with an invite to spring training. However, the short sample was not kind to Matzek and Arizona released him after only 3 appearances. The reason:
- Jackson Generals: 16.9 BB/9
Unfortunately for Matzek, no other MLB team picked him up after his release, so he went back to familiarity and re-joined the Airhogs. Not sure if it was familiarity or the determination to get back to the big leagues, but Matzek put up eye popping K-rates and shrinking (yet still high) walk rates for the Airhogs. This caught the attention of a general manager always looking for the next overlooked star, and the Braves and Alex Anthopoulos inked Matzek to a Minor League deal midyear in 2019.
After spending 2.1 innings at AA Mississippi, Matzek was quickly promoted to AAA, and with lack of LH arms at the MLB level, this promotion prompted me to write this:
From there, we all know the story. He didn’t get his shot in 2019 and wasn’t even a 2020 ST 2.0 invite that Alex Anthopoulos put together. However, when Brian Snitker saw the list, he requested Matzek to be included. Some Braves fans might not like Snitker’s in-game strategies, but like Bobby Cox, Snitker seems to be a good judge of talent and thank God he gave Matzek a chance in 2020. And finally….
2020 Player Review: Miracle Matzek
In a major way, Tyler Matzek reclaimed his spot as an MLB pitcher. In 2020, he finished with a 2.79 ERA, a 13.3 K/9, and a miraculous 3.3 BB/9. Whether your baseball tastebuds prefer old school numbers or new aged metrics, Matzek was dominant:
- ERA: Top 15% of the League
- xERA: Top 10% of the League
- K/9: Top 10% of the League
- K/BB ratio: Top 15% of the League
- Barrel rate: Top 5% of the League
- Hard hit rate: Top 5% of the League
Matzek continued that dominance in the postseason, nearly mirroring his regular season results, by throwing 8.2 innings of 1.04 ERA baseball with 14.5 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9.
While I’d like for Matzek to go back to Driveline this offseason working as a “starter”, it might be too much to ask of him at this point in his career. With Shane Greene and Mark Melancon likely going bye bye, Matzek’s innings could come at the back end of games with Chris Martin, Will Smith, and Darren O’Day. From the Braves standpoint, the most beautiful thing about a re-vamped Matzek is that he’s cost-controlled and comes with 4 more years of team control.
Matzek made about $230K in 2020, which is likely more than he made total between 2015 and 2019.
Gents, listen to your wives.