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For the Astros, so far, so good with Phil Maton

The 28-year-old, who was acquired for Myles Straw, has been a solid upgrade for the Astros’ bullpen.

Houston Astros v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

When the Astros pulled off an unexpected trade with the Indians, sending outfielder Myles Straw in exchange for reliever Phil Maton, everyone was pretty shocked. Liked it or not, Straw was their everyday center-fielder and he was under plenty of years of control. And out of the blue, they were trading him for a reliever that has never finished a season with an ERA below 4.00.

But Maton has found success and has been pretty dominant for the Astros, giving them a breather after people showed clearly they didn’t enjoy Straw going to another team. So far, the 28-year-old has allowed earned runs in only one of his eight appearances for Houston.

Maton has pitched 8 1/3 innings of seven hits, four runs (three earned), three walks, and eight strikeouts, good for a 3.24 ERA. But if you remove his August 8 performance against the Twins —and that only works for context, of course—, he’d have a 0.00 ERA across 7 2/3 episodes of five hits, two walks, and seven punchouts.

The righty delivered a valuable performance on Thursday for the Astros, helping the team snap a four-game losing streak. Against the Royals, he threw two hitless frames, gave up one walk, and recorded one strikeout. It was his third scoreless outing in a row.

For Maton, it seems he’s just pitching without trying too hard to get strikeouts or just trying to do too much. Comparing his time with the Indians in 2021, there are some changes that make us believe there has been plenty of work done with Astros’ pitching coach Brent Strom. Take a look at this…

  • Contact%: 64.5% with Indians | 72.5% with Astros
  • O-Swing%: 31.9% with Indians | 36.0% with Astros
  • Exit velocity: 89.7 MPH with Indians | 88.5 MPH with Astros
  • K/9: 13.28 with Indians | 8.64 with Astros
  • BB/9: 4.35 with Indians | 3.24 with Astros
  • Opp AVG: .232 with Indians | .219 with Astros
  • WHIP: 1.35 with Indians | 1.20 with Astros

As you just saw above, it’s true Maton is not accumulating strikeouts as much as he was before the trade, but he’s also giving up fewer walks and being more effective on the mound. If you’re telling me that you can sacrifice a few punchouts to be a better pitcher, I would have no problem with that.

In his good stint with the ‘Stros, Phil has also changed a bit his pitching approach as he’s reduced his fastball usage from 47.7% to 30.1%. At the same time, his cutter percentage has climbed from 4.6% to 12.5% as well as his curveball, which went from 31.3% to a notably higher 41.9%.

For the Astros, Maton is getting more soft contact, allowing fewer baserunners, and becoming a more complete guy on the mound, which are three crucial aspects in the success of any reliever in baseball.