To say that Brian Matusz has had a rough season is probably an understatement. The injury to start the year; the June return and subsequent shellacking, resulting in a trip down to the minors; the August call-up and subsequent shellacking. It was all capped off by his recent starts in New York and Boston (wasn’t there a way to work Matusz in so that he wasn’t facing two of the majors’ best offenses on the road?) in which he didn’t get out of the second inning in either start and allowed five and six runs, respectively.
The latter game actually pushed Matusz’s ERA up to 10.68, which - as MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko noted - would set a record for the highest ever by a pitcher with at least 10 starts (or 40 innings pitched, whichever lower boundary you want to set). Matusz, mercifully, does not have the worst ERA ever when you compare it to the league average, though (and adjust for ballpark). Here are the top (or, I suppose, bottom) five (minimum 40 innings pitched):
1. Steve Blass, 1973 - 9.85 ERA, 36 ERA+: In what has become a well-known story, Blass just lost the ability to throw strikes the year after he came in second in the Cy Young voting. He was done after walking seven in five innings pitched in the following year.
2. Marsh Williams, 191 - 7.89 ERA, 37 ERA+ :This was the one and only season Williams pitched in the majors. He walked almost twice as many batters as he struck out, which was actually not even the worst ratio in baseball that year. Marsh went 0-6, but he did complete three games in four starts. He pitched out of the bullpen some too, as did Blass.
3. Brian Matusz, 201 -: 10.68 ERA, 39 ERA+: It’s been like batting practice out there, even if he has gotten his average fastball velocity on the season up to 88 mph. Maybe he’s just lost it though - there was a drop from ~91.5 mph to ~90 mph last year. It’s a little hard to tell in 44 2/3 innings how much of his .384 batting average on balls in play (career .300 coming into this season) is bad luck and how much of it is batters tattooing everying he throws. There’s a similar question regarding all the home runs he’s allowed (a staggering 3.2 per nine innings), as Matusz has always been an extreme flyball pitcher (and is even moreso in 2011) while almost 19 percent of fly balls have gone over the fence (usually around 9 percent). I almost hope he’s hurt, just so there’d be a good excuse for what’s happening. If Matusz is really healthy and he’s not suffering from some absolutely terrible luck, then that’s a real blow to the Orioles’ chances of having a winning season soon.
4. Lloyd Allen, 1973 - 9.42 ERA, 40 ERA+: Yikes, another one from 1973. Allen did a decent Steve Blass impression; he had always walked a fair number of batters, but his rate jumped up to 8 BB/9. The 9.42 ERA looks even worse when you consider that Allen didn’t even start a game that year - it was all out of the ‘pen. He struck around in the majors for two more seasons, continuing to walk batters left and right.
5. Harry Hoch, 1915 - 7.20 ERA, 40 ERA+: Back to the early 1900’s we go, for another guy with a winless record (0-4) who still managed to get a complete game. It was his last year in the big leagues, after getting a few innings in 1908 and then pitching in 1914.
So that’s not a very encouraging list. Plus, if you limit it to pitchers who started at least 85 percent of their games (Matusz is 11-for-11 there),the 2011 Oriole not only jumps up to first but he’s way ahead of the competition. Mark Davis’ 47 ERA+ in 1980 is second, and Matusz is worse than that by as far as Davis is worse than the guy who’s 14th. And his ERA of 10.68 is then also over a full run higher than the next pitcher’s (Sean Bergman’s 9.66 in 2000, which is an ERA+ of 54, thanks to the higher run-scoring environment).
People like to bring up the previous highest ERA pitcher, since Roy Halladay (10.64), who also suffered from a high BABIP and HR/FB rate in 2000 - went down to the minors, worked some things out and came back to become one of the best pitchers in baseball. Halladay was never nearly as good as Matusz was before their respective awful seasons, so it was more of a reinvention as opposed to trying to find what was lost. Hopefully Matusz can follow a similar path forward.
Daniel Moroz blogs about the Orioles for Camden Crazies and joins MASNsports.com as part of our season-long initiative to welcome guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.