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The 2022 season made me think Phil Maton hasn’t reached his ceiling

While Maton wasn’t a perfect pitcher in 2022, he showed some flashes of greatness.

MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Since joining the Astros, Phil Maton hasn’t been the most consistent pitcher in the Majors – his 4.15 ERA and 1.352 WHIP as an Astro are a sign of his ups and downs. However, Maton has been really good at times and, for some reason, he has us thinking that he’s yet to reach his ceiling. In 2023, he’ll have another opportunity to do so.

Throughout 2022, Maton showed some flashes of what he can do when he’s focused and on a hot streak. (remember the immaculate inning?) Even though he finished the season with a 3.84 ERA, a 4.33 FIP, and a 1.249 WHIP, the righty struck out 73 hitters through 65 2/3 innings of work while allowing only 58 hits. Amidst all of that, there are reasons to believe Maton’s best version is yet to come.

It seems that, as a manager, you need to know how and when to use the Kentucky native. Though that’s not ideal if you’re supposed to be a late-inning reliever, Dusty Baker might be getting close to perfection with Maton’s usage after two years in Houston.

For example, one of Maton’s issues in 2022 was his home run proneness. He allowed 10 long balls, which led to a 1.4 HR/9 ratio – a dangerous number for a reliever. He was capable of improving as he surrendered only two roundtrippers in the second half after being hammered with eight in the first part of the season.

In fact, Maton allowed only two home runs in his last 30 innings. Do the math and that ratio goes to 0.6, which actually is really good.

And as part of that, I truly believe Maton can be the pitcher he was in the final part of 2022 – at least more often. In his final 17 1/3 regular-season innings in ’22, the 29-year-old gave up 10 hits and four earned runs while walking six hitters and striking out 23. He pitched well enough to post a 2.08 ERA and a .170/.258/.322 opponent slash line.

There’s a hidden fact that you might be missing about Maton, who was acquired on July 30, 2021, from Cleveland along with Yainer Díaz in exchange for speedy outfielder Myles Straw. He was REALLY good with runners in scoring position.

In 80 plate appearances with RISP, Maton’s rivals hit for a weak .200/.304/.231 and a .535 OPS. Across 33 games, opponents registered only two extra-base hits (both doubles) and struck out 15 times. Even better, that line went down to .040/.200/.040 (1-for-25) when he faced the same scenario but with two outs on the scoreboard.

Even though Maton is not a guy who will overpower hitters with his fastball, which sits at 91 miles per hour, he’s got an elite pitch in his curveball. His breaking ball was at its best last year, making hitters post a .165 batting average and a .341 slugging percentage, besides accounting for 30 of his 73 punchouts (41%).

Fortunately, the Astros are not depending on Maton to win or to have success with their bullpen as they have a solid core of relievers. They can use Maton wisely while he finds consistency and becomes a bigger weapon among Baker’s options. Hopefully, that will happen in 2023.