The San Diego Padres’ bullpen didn’t stand out to fans as a success this year, although it was much better than most people realized.
Beyond a few injuries and down years from key members, this Padres bullpen had the pieces to be one of the brighter spots on the team. The Padres are now left with many formidable pieces in the pen, one of them being Phil Maton.
Phil Maton was drafted in the 20th round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres. He had a quick journey through the minors, dominating at every minor league level, posting an overall record of 10-6 with a 1.89 ERA and 167 strikeouts to 24 walks. That phenomenal strikeout to walk ratio came from his superb fastball that has one of the highest spin rates in Major League Baseball.
Phil Maton is known for his unique four-seam fastball, that maintains an exceptional spin rate. Throughout his time at Louisiana Tech, Phil was a starter and mostly used his fastball to blow past guys while racking up strikeouts. Upon making it to the minor leagues, Phil has adjusted his pitches and become a closer.
Padres fans should be excited about having this guy on the team. He resembles the exact profile needed to be one of the best set-up men in baseball, and potentially even a closer for the Padres down the road. Here is a positive, negative, and outlook of Maton, where I expand on his strengths and discuss some areas for improvement.
High Spin Rate on Fastball
Phil Maton began his career with the Padres, pitching 8.1 scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts and zero walks. That was a very positive start to a career for a guy who was looked upon as a potential major piece of the Padres’ bullpen. In his major league debut, he came in to pitch a scoreless eighth inning where he struck out Lorenzo Cain for his memorable first major league strikeout. His pitches looked as good as advertised from just about every angle.
As I mentioned earlier, the main strength in Phil’s pitching arsenal is his (high spin) four-seam fastball that constantly gets hitters second guessing at home plate. The spin rate on someone’s pitch makes it harder to hit because the ball looks like its going to reach the plate significantly lower. A fastball with a high spin rate comes in higher, making it harder for the hitter to adjust in time to make contact.
Phil Matons’ opponents experience this often, as he threw his four-seamer 74 percent of the time in his rookie season with the Padres. His extremely lethal pitch finished with an average spin rate of 2,484.82 rpms (revolutions per minute per second) and an average velocity of 92.34 mph. That spin rate on his fast ball is well above the major league average, and according to the Baseball’s Savant search on MLB.com, that is among the top twenty pitchers in MLB with at least 100 strikeouts.
Now to give you some more perspective on this pitch, according to Padres beat reporter Dennis Lin, Matons’ four-seamer carried an average spin rate of 2,572 revolutions per minute during his time in the minor leagues. In the majors, the average four-seam spin rate was 2,264 rpm in 2016. Looking at his minor league numbers Phil Maton would have ranked just behind Matt Bush, whose 2,591-rpm led all big-league pitchers who threw at least 500 four-seamers. His high spin four-seam fastball makes him very unique compared to most other relievers you will see.
A primary reason Phil Maton has this absurdly high spin rate is because of the way he releases the ball. His pitch extension plays a huge role in that pitch being so difficult for opposing hitters to hit. He’s great at fooling hitters because his four-seamer appears much faster than the actual velocity of the pitch. According to Fan Graphs’ writer and author David Laurila, Maton does a spectacular job at disguising his fastball with his secondary pitches.
During prior interviews that David Laurila had with Maton last season, Phil mentioned, “For the most part, I like to kind of tunnel my slider out of that high fastball. I like to have it look like it’s coming out of the same spot, but then dip down at the last second, hopefully for a swing and miss. If I go up in the zone with the four-seam, I want to make sure I throw my slider out of the same spot.” He had opponents swinging 67.8 percent of the time on pitches that were inside the strike zone. Hitters commonly have to wait until the very last moment to decide if they should swing at the pitch because of how similar they look coming out of the pitcher’s hand. That is another strength for Maton, where his primary pitches are all released at nearly the same point making them look the same. Phil Maton has tremendous release extension on his pitches and they should continue to get better as he works with the Padres’ pitching coaches.
The Padres’ bullpen coach, Doug Botchler, has stressed the fact that Phil must learn to mix in his other pitches and develop his breaking ball if he wants to have steady success at the Major League Level. Phil’s arsenal of pitches includes his four-seam fastball, a slider, a cutter, and a changeup.
During his time at Louisiana Tech, Maton primarily threw his high four-seamer up in the zone with two strikes to blow by guys, and then occasionally threw a two seamer. Upon his appearance in the minors, and now the Padres, Phil has shown how he really worked hard to improve his slider and changeup. Now, he focuses on keeping his fastball up in the zone to every single hitter he faces. The high spin rate on this pitch is particularly hard to hit when it’s coming at you higher because it doesn’t drop and keeps spinning at the same place all the way into the catcher’s glove. This really gets hitters second-guessing because they think it’s coming much lower in the zone.
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