Reverting to a three-pitch arsenal, Phil Maton’s cutter is now non-existent. The Houston Astros‘ right-hander threw the pitch only 85 times in 2021, making up a minimal 7.2% of his pitch usage. In 2022, the cutter has seen the plate twice, one resulting in one of the three home runs Maton has yielded this season.
Maton’s cutter wasn’t his worst pitch, leaving hitters with a .297 wOBA — the second-best pitch in his arsenal although used in a smaller sample. The righty has always leaned heavily on his four-seam fastball as well as mixing in a slider and a curveball, but with his advanced metrics not matching 2021’s success, what doesn’t look the same in Maton’s game?
With a change of approach upon arrival in Houston, Phil Maton found success come October, but what isn’t going his way in 2022?
On May 3, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reported Maton’s strive for improvement on his first pitch strikes and adjustments into his second season with the Astros. Since the report, Maton has appeared in five games, totaling 6.2 innings with three earned runs and two home runs allowed.
The 29-year-old’s ERA jumped to 4.08 following two innings against the Boston Red Sox on Monday, and after three days of rest, Maton pitched to one batter Friday, moving to a 4.00 ERA.
Beyond the standard metrics, opposing hitters aren’t crushing Maton’s pitches. Actually, opposing hitters are making softer contact in relation to Maton’s performances with Cleveland and Houston in 2021.
The degree of separation is minimal as seen in the graphics from Baseball Savant above, but what stands out are the expected statistics for batters. Opposing hitters have a .419 xwOBA against Maton which is in the bottom 5% percentile for pitchers in Major League Baseball.
His spin rate mirrors his career average, but opposing hitters are almost guaranteed a free base when putting a ball in play against Maton, sitting in the bottom 2% of the League in xBA. Of those pitches Maton offers, his slider is doing him his worst.
Maton throws his slider nearly 25% of the time he is on the mound — a roughly 6% increase from the 2021 season. Opposing hitters are slugging .727 against his slider, slamming two home runs in the past five appearances against Maton’s third-most thrown pitch.
Maton’s slider looks different too. It’s dropping -0.9 inches — 6.5 inches less than 2021 —compared to the average in 2022, while vertically moving 5.6 compared to the average in 2021. Horizontally, Maton’s slider is breaking two inches more this year compared to last, likely feeding into the wheelhouse of opposing batters.
An adjustment will need to be made in Maton’s three-pitch arsenal, while his slider and his fastball aren’t contributing to his regular high strikeout rate and Whiff%. As his four-seam doesn’t trend with his successful curve, the pitch still isn’t allowing many bases, yielding only one extra-base hit of the eight its allowed.
Down the stretch in 2021, Maton grew into a high-leverage option for manager Dusty Baker. While his slider could see an improvement, the season is nearly 25% complete, leaving the right-hander optimal time to find his form.