Veteran left-handed reliever Tyler Matzek missed the 2023 season recovering from Tommy John Surgery, but should return early in the 2024 season to add depth to an already solid bullpen.
Drafted 11th overall in the 2009 draft by the Colorado Rockies, Matzek made his MLB debut against the Atlanta Braves as a starting pitcher in 2014. After starting 19 games for the Rockies in 2014 and beginning the 2015 season in the rotation, Matzek began to experience control issues that led to him being optioned back to Triple-A in 2015, and ultimately being released by Colorado after spending the entire 2016 campaign in the minors.
Matzek cycled through several organizations and had two different stints in independent baseball for next three seasons, as he struggled with control issues. His 2019 season with the independent Texas AirHogs saw him finally return to form after battling the “yips,” leading to Atlanta purchasing his contract from the AirHogs in August 2019.
After closing out 2019 in the minors with Atlanta, Matzek was a surprise Opening Day roster pick for Atlanta in 2020, arguably making the club only because of the expanded rosters afforded teams amid the pandemic. Yet, despite all that, he impressed on the mound and ended up spending his next three seasons as a key member of the team’s bullpen.
Despite having elbow surgery after the 2022 season, Atlanta re-signed Matzek to a two-year contract with an option for 2025.
What were the expectations?
Matzek was not expected to help the Braves out in 2023 given his recovery timeline, and he didn’t, at least not on the mound.
Matzek did not pitch in 2023, although his social media post did add some zingers from time-to-time throughout the season.
What went right?
2022 was a huge step back for Matzek as he battled injury issues throughout the season and finished with -0.1 fWAR while hitting the shelf. The Braves believed enough in his ability to recover and return to form, that the organization took a modest risk in signing him to a two-year, $3.1 million deal that included a third-year option despite knowing he would not be available in 2023.
What went wrong?
No one ever wants to miss a season due to injury, but for Matzek, it’s been just another hurdle for him to overcome. Despite missing five MLB seasons between his last appearance for Colorado in 2015 and his debut with Atlanta in 2020, the 33-year-old has appeared in 157 games in his career, but only one of those has seen him pitch for the entirety of a 162-game season.
By Opening Day 2024, Matzek will be more than 18 months removed from Tommy John Surgery, which bodes well for his hopes to return to his high leverage role out of the Atlanta bullpen. The Braves have already brought in some new bullpen buddies for him, including Aaron Bummer from the White Sox, who will join Matzek, A.J. Minter, and Dylan Lee as left-handed options.
With Lee battling injuries in 2023, Matzek’s return to form would be a boon to the Braves bullpen depth. But, it’s very difficult to project a guy with a career arc as strange as Matzek’s, especially coming off what was essentially a lost 2022 season, and then a truly lost 2023 campaign.
Although Atlanta is surely banking on Matzek’s return, the team can afford to be cautious with him early in the season as they also have Raisel Iglesias, Joe Jimenez and Pierce Johnson returning in 2024, not to mention the other names above, and guys like Reynaldo Lopez that may also end up in the bullpen. The team is likely to add an additional arm or two to vie for the last bullpen spots — but a healthy and effective Matzek would go a long way in the team having a dominant bullpen in 2024. Plus, it would be a ton of fun.