After going 21-33 with a 5.51 ERA in 68 career starts Brian Matusz shifted to the bullpen in the middle of last season and has fared very well as a reliever, throwing 57 innings with a 2.84 ERA, 57/17 K/BB ratio, and .202 opponents’ batting average.
However, the 26-year-old left-hander told Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com that he still hopes to be a starter again for the Orioles, perhaps as soon as next season:
Hopefully. I would like to be given a chance to earn a spot, but my focus right now to win ballgames and make the postseason. That’s something that will be discussed at the end of the season, but ultimately, I’d like to be able to start at some point.
It’s hard to imagine the Orioles feel the same way, although when asked by Dubroff manager Buck Showalter said that Matusz “still possibly has a future as a starter.”
The wave of defensive shifts we’ve seen over the past few years has led to a lot of armchair hitting coaches demanding that players bunt to beat it. This is easier said than done, however.
The shift happens because certain hitters tend to pull the ball. Certain hitters tend to pull the ball because pulling the ball is what happens when one gets a strong, quick swing on a pitch one identifies early and which one endeavors to send as far away from home plate as possible. Which is to say that pulling is a skill that is good to have and which is strongly selected for among hitters.
In light of that, “why not just bunt to beat the shift” takes are kind of lazy. Bunting is hard! And it is not a thing guys who get shifted a lot are good at. Most of the time asking a player to do a thing he is not well-equipped to do is a bad idea. Indeed, a hitter voluntarily going away from his strength is something the defense would much prefer.
Most of the time anyway.
Last night Matt Carpenter made those armchair hitting coaches happy by laying down a bunt to beat the shift. And he laid it down so well that he ended up with a standup double:
One batter later Carpenter scored on a Starlin Castro error.
The shift giveth and the shift taketh away.