2012 Player Review: Ryan Mattheus
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today, we make the call to the bullpen for right-hander Ryan Mattheus.
While the Nationals staff was largely praised for the effectiveness of the starting rotation last year, it would be remiss to overlook the contributions of the bullpen, which was as solid and deep as any in the National League. Although Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen are more well-known on the national stage, there is another hurler lurking in the ’pen, one who continued to grow and solidify his role in Davey Johnson’s late-game mix: Ryan Mattheus.
The right-hander posted a remarkably similar ERA (2.85) to that of his rookie season (2.81), but made some significant strides in improving his peripheral numbers. A groundball pitcher by trade, Mattheus raised his K rate from 3.4/9.0 IP to 5.6/9.0 IP while cutting down significantly on his walks. As a result, he finished the year with a lower WHIP than any National to throw at least 35 innings not named Gio (yes, even lower than Stephen Strasburg). The biggest mark against Mattheus was his eight home runs allowed, but six of those were solo shots, evidence of his ability to keep opposing runners off base, limiting the damage against him.
Arguably the biggest moment of the 29-year-old’s season – and possibly career, to this point – came in Game 1 of the NLDS in St. Louis. With Washington trailing 2-1, the Cardinals loaded the bases with nobody out to start the bottom of the seventh inning. Johnson called on Mattheus, handing him the seemingly impossible task of escaping the middle of the St. Louis lineup without allowing any damage. Cards cleanup man Allen Craig swung at the first pitch and hit a bounder to Ian Desmond at shortstop, who threw home for a force out, the first of the inning. Then, on the very next pitch, Yadier Molina rolled over a ground ball to Ryan Zimmerman, who started an inning-ending, 5-4-3 double play. Mattheus’ Houdini act made him the first Major Leaguer in Postseason history to record three outs in an inning on just two pitches.
The Galt, California native gained popularity with Washington fans by picking Katy Perry’s “Firework” as his bullpen entrance song in 2011, and he stuck with the tune in his second full season. The auditory cue became almost as synonymous in its familiarity as Michael Morse’s use of “Take On Me” in his fourth plate appearance of the game. Mattheus also let fans actively participate in helping him create his Twitter profile, encouraging them to vote for his profile photo. Mattheus will not be arbitration eligible until 2015, and is under team control through the 2018 season.