The Rockies had high hopes for Tyler Matzek when they made him the 11th overall pick of the 2009 draft, giving the southpaw from Capistrano Valley (Calif.) High School a then-franchise record $3.9 million signing bonus.
Matzek impressed in his pro debut with Asheville in 2010, posting a 2.92 ERA in 89 1/3 innings despite walking 6.2 batters per nine innings. However, 2011 was a disaster for Matzek, as he walked 96 batters in 97 innings over two levels of A-ball and at one point was actually sent home to work with his personal pitching coach. Matzek repeated Modesto in 2012 with much better results and got back on track.
After a strong start to 2014 in Colorado Springs and injuries to Jordan Lyles and Eddie Butler, the 23-year-old Matzek made his big league debut on June 11, five years after he was drafted.
Nobody really knew what to expect from Matzek in the majors, looking at a minor league career that saw him walk six batters per nine innings over 537 2/3 innings, but his debut against the Braves at Coors Field saw him walk absolutely no one and allow just two runs on five hits in seven innings with seven strikeouts, giving a good start to what was perhaps the best season of his professional career.
Matzek made 19 starts (and one relief appearance) for the Rockies in 2014, pitching 117 2/3 innings with the Rockies with a 4.05 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. He allowed 120 hits, but walked just 44 while striking out 91. His 3.4 BB/9 in the majors was better than any of his minor league seasons and his 7.0 K/9 number led Rockies starters in 2014.
As with any rookie pitcher, a few of Matzek's starts were clunkers. He gave up eight runs on 10 hits in four innings at Detroit on August 2, for example. However, 11 of Matzek's 19 starts qualified as quality starts and he allowed two or fewer runs 10 times. Matzek's strongest stretch came at the end of the season, as he had a 1.55 ERA over 40 2/3 innings in his final six starts with 14 walks and 38 strikeouts. He also posted a 3.61 ERA in eight starts at Coors Field as opposed to a 4.41 mark in 11 starts away from home.
The highlight of Matzek's season came on September 5 at Coors Field, as he allowed just three hits and a walk, striking out six en route to a a complete game shutout of the Padres. The shutout was the first for the Rockies since Ubaldo Jimenez shut out the Dodgers in Los Angeles on June 1, 2011.
Matzek's peripherals in 2014 indicate that sustained success is certainly possible for the Rockies lefty. His FIP was a tidy 3.78 to go with a 3.92 xFIP. He had a 49.7 ground ball percentage and 8.9% HR/FB rate to go with a .312 BABIP against him and a strand rate of 73.8%. His ERA+ of 105 was also solid and, in fact, better than that of the Mets' Zack Wheeler, who was taken out of high school five picks ahead of Matzek in the 2009 draft. He was also good for 2.0 fWAR and 1.9 rWAR.
2014 Grade: A
As a 23-year-old rookie, Matzek had the best ERA of any Rockies starter in 2014. He posted a career-low walk rate and was an above-average pitcher when adjusting for league and park. It's really a shame he was overlooked in Rookie of the Year voting. This season was a success for Matzek by any measure, a solid A.
What to expect in 2015
I'm going to say something a lot of Rockies fans hoped to one day hear about him when he was drafted in 2009: Expect Tyler Matzek to be a cornerstone of the Rockies' rotation in 2015 along with fellow lefty Jorge De La Rosa. He was second among Rockies pitchers in WAR in 2014 and with a full season in 2015 could very well lead the pitching staff in that stat.
It all seems to have come together for Matzek, as he has finally taken the stuff that made him a first-round pick and combined it with a mentality of attacking the strike zone. Look for him to build on his 2014 success, especially at the end of the season, and turn in an even stronger season next year.