Phil Maton’s arrival to the Houston Astros is not what many had hoped for, but his postseason work shows great signs of future success.
The Houston Astros were in a bad place in terms of relief pitching around mid-season. Those fans who had to endure those epic meltdowns by the bullpen know that I am not sugar coating the situation.
At the trade deadline this season, general manager James Click clearly had a plan and made the right moves within the financial framework established by owner Jim Crane. Click acquired Kendall Graveman, Yimi Garcia and Phil Maton through various trades.
Fans were puzzled by the latter. Graveman was a no-brainer and one could talk themselves into Garcia, but trading away starting centerfielder and clubhouse favorite, Myles Straw, for a mostly no-name reliever from the Cleveland baseball team was puzzling.
The 28-year-old reliever joined the Astros sporting a 4.57 ERA in 38 appearances for Cleveland. Not the most lights-out earned run average for a player who is supposed to anchor a subpar bullpen.
However, you would need to dig a little deeper into the numbers to really get a feeling for the type of pitcher Maton was. At the time of the trade, Maton ranked sixth in the league with a 13.28 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio.
It was only natural that the legendary pitching coach, Brent Strom, was going to get a hold of Maton, retool his slider and work with him on putting together more effective game planning.
In order to see the value that Phil Maton brought to the Astros relief corps, you have to take a look at a few advanced pitch metrics. According to Baseball Savant, Maton’s slider attacks hitters with an active spin rate of 67.2. Only 11 other pitchers spin their sliders more than Maton’s offering.
Maton did not endear himself to the Astros faithful after joining the team. In fact, at times, he pitched even worse than what he shown in the first half of the season in Cleveland. However, Maton was actually better than his final regular season numbers indicated.
He finished with 85 strikeouts through 66.2 innings with an ERA of 4.73. Yes, not earth-shattering numbers, but Maton was in the 80th-percentile in xBA, xSLG, and Hard Hit Percentage, indicating that a lot of the damage done against him this season was of the weaker, luckier variety.
Additionally, Maton’s strikeout and whiff percentages remained in the 80th and 90th-percentile, respectively. This further drives home the fact that with a little more luck on his side, Phil’s arsenal was nothing to be trifled with.
Not sure if it was the aforementioned luck, Maton finally putting the pieces together or the swing happy opponents the Astros faced in the postseason, but the right-hander turned into a bonafide star reliever in the 2021 MLB Postseason.
To the point in my mind that had the Astros prevailed over the Atlanta Braves, it would’ve been very difficult for me to consider anyone else as the World Series MVP. In the World Series alone, Maton appeared in all six games. The righty put out fires left and right, sporting a 0.00 ERA with two walks and eight strikeouts through 5.2 innings.
Through the Astros entire 12-game postseason run, Phil Maton only gave up a single earned run in 12.1 innings, along with 14 strikeouts and three walks. Opponents slashed a measly .200/.250/.311 against Maton. He was lights out when the Astros needed to get a handle on the game and bridge the gap to Graveman, Stanek and Pressly.
Maton is under team control for the next two seasons. Astros fans shouldn’t be surprised to see Maton have a bigger role amongst the Astros relievers starting next season.
With the likely departures of Graveman and Raley, the Astros will be in desperate need of a lockdown reliever and a lefty specialist. After Maton’s postseason performance, it’s clear that he can fill both roles after mowing down the Braves’ row of brutal left-handed batters only on a moments notice.
Additionally, the Astros will have their full offseason to continue their work to improve Maton’s pitching tools and game management. While his regular season performance leaves something to be desired, it’s clear that this young man, who is know for his stoic presence on the mound, will be an important fixture in the Astros bullpen over the next two seasons.