With Matusz, the velocity is only a part of the story

I know that Brian Matusz pitched terribly last year and that is the memory many still have as they wonder if he can regain his pre-2011 form for the Orioles.

But I keep thinking back to the Matusz I saw in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He was a pitcher with an excellent four-pitch assortment and could command them all. He pitched with a plan and with confidence.

We’ve seen him do that at the major league level as well and I am confident he will do it again. It may take some time and maybe he will have to start this year in the minors - we’ll see on that - but I see Matusz returning to pitch well for this team this year.

There is no sense overanalyzing his start the other night. It was two innings and just the first outing. He had his fastball velocity, but not great command and he gave up some hits. I keep saying the command is more important for this pitcher than the velocity. As long as he has 90 or 91 going for him he has the quality pitches to, as Buck Showalter would say, “defend himself.”

There has been so much focus on how his velocity fell off last year that the radar gun is all some are focusing on with this kid right now. He was never a power pitcher and he’s not a soft-tosser either. He is someone that thrives on command of four pitches and when that returns, so will better results and his fastball velocity will become less of a focal point.

On the morning of Matusz’s first major league start, on Aug. 4, 2009 - he would give up just one run in five innings in a win against the Tigers - I wrote a scouting report on the left-hander after watching him pitch that year for both Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie.

That blog said in part:

First off, don’t expect Matusz to light up any radar guns. He throws 90, 91 mostly and I don’t remember him in the mid 90s even one time. He doesn’t overpower hitters but gets them out with a stunning four-pitch assortment.

When I saw him, his best pitch was the changeup. His arm speed on it looked great and the pitch got great results, weak swings and pop ups. Will big league hitters react the same? Well, they are big league hitters, so they probably will handle it better.

I have seen him pitch when he struggled to get his fastball over. But it looked like he could throw a curve or change for a strike any time he wanted.

The control and command of the four pitches and his ability to hit corners and move the ball around is a real strength.

Here is a link to that blog from August of 2009.

Here is a look at a Fangraphs chart on Matusz’s fastball velocity for every one of his major league starts. It shows his average fastball was between 89 and 91 for most of his 2010 starts and that his velocity was well down early last year but had come back in some of his final starts of 2011.

But as usual in sports, there are some things we can’t put on a graph or don’t have a stat for. Conditioning and confidence are two of those. Matusz sure seems a better conditioned pitcher as this season begins than he was this time last year. With his fastball velocity back, better results could follow if the command is there and that will lead to increased confidence.

This is a young man that has hardly ever struggled on a mound in his life. He has to forget last year and move on. Easy to say, very hard to do. He’s been doing nothing but answering questions about last year for months now.

Can Matusz regain his form? I have no doubt that he can. Will he? I believe he will but who knows if it will be a fast or slower process there.

Some things we just can’t chart.

Now some linkage for you to read and/or view and comment on if you like.

* WJZ-TV’s Mark Viviano talks to some Orioles about their use of Twitter to reach their fans.

* Here is a good read on the man who recently overturned Ryan Braun’s suspension and who has been an arbitrator for MLB, making many key decisions, since 1999.

* The sad saga of Lenny Dykstra continues.

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