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2020 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews #44: Matt Grace

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When grandpa Matt tells his grandchildren about his time in the MLB, he’ll probably leave his tenure with the Diamondbacks out.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
  • Rating: 2.70
  • Age: 31
  • 2020 Stats: 3G, 1.0 IP, 54.00 ERA, 18.19 FIP, 10.98 xFIP, 7.00 WHIP, -0.4 bWAR
  • 2020 Salary: $575,000
  • 2021 Status: unrestricted free agent (arb 2 eligible)

Introduction

When the Washington Nationals celebrated their World Series win in 2019, they did so without Matt Grace. The Nats’ 8th round pick in the 2010 draft was a middle reliever for a couple of years and experienced some success in 2017 and 2018. But in 2019 he got punished by the juiced ball and was designated for assignment on August 30, 2019.

Grace chose free agency and found a new possible love in the Arizona Diamondbacks who signed the reliever in November 2019, and assigned him to the Reno Aces in January 2020. When summer camp started, the California native was part of the 60 man roster on the alternate training site.

Matt Grace was not expected to become a major piece of the Diamondbacks’ 2020 bullpen. But left handed pitchers on the D-Backs 60 man player pool were a scarcity, so we could expect him to pitch at some time during the 2020 season. That opportunity came on August 20 when lefty Andrew Chafin hit the Injured List and Grace’s contract was selected.

2020 review

Now I am one of those people that click far too much on websites and look for stupid things. One of those useless things is that Matt Grace is a terrible pitcher in August. I am not saying that this was the cause of his problems, but at least it seems the stars were not aligned.

It started all well though. In Oakland he came in with the team down 1-5 in the 8th for some mop up duties against a handful of struggling Athletics batters, allowed one hit but got three out. Little did we know that those were to be the last three batters he would get out this season.

According to another useless stat, Matt Grace performs best on a 0 or 4 days rest, but the Diamondbacks used him again after 1 day of rest, now in a game against the San Francisco Giants. He would have consistent problems in finding the strike zone and would allow two walks and a double, leaving the bases loaded for Junior Guerra who would walk two batters in and charge Grace with 3 runs and the loss.

On a 3 days rest Grace would come in in the 8th inning against the Rockies when down 4-1. First pitch homer and two first pitch singles were his final contributions before being designated for assignment the following day (a Blackmon grand slam would charge Grace with yet two more runs).

Matt Grace is a pitcher that relies heavily on a fastball and a slider. His fastball has been graded as a Sinker, although Statcast defines it in 2020 as a four seamer. I am not sure if this is a deliberate choice and I’d rather suppose that his sinker has just lost the movement for it to be classified as a fastball (fangraphs still defines it as a sinker). According to statcast Grace threw one sinker in 2020, hence the brown line for 2020 (see image below).

However it may be, the lost in movement has been accompanied by a loss in velocity and as such has become a hard hit ball (see image below). It was one of his problems in 2019 and continued to be a problem in 2020.

Matt Grace stayed for just a week on the D-Backs 40 man roster before being designated for assignment on August 28. He had the honour of becoming the pitcher with the highest ERA ever on the Diamondbacks (with at least one inning pitched), although four runs came by courtesy of other relievers.

The SnakePit did not rank him as the worst D-Backs pitcher (that honour fell to Robbie Ray), but a pitcher that is not capable of sticking to a roster and a bullpen that was as bad as the 2020 D-Backs is definitely one of the worst.

2021 outlook

Matt Grace was granted free agency on October 6.

He joined the Diamondbacks on a minor league contract, so after throwing 36 pitches to a 54.00 ERA it is unreasonable to believe he will be able to achieve something better.

The additional problem is that, although the sample size is very small, his stats seem to trend in the wrong direction: lost movemement on his main pitches, velocity drop on his pitches and now, maybe, also problems finding consistently the strike zone (his BB% used to be top in the league but 2020 was a small sample size of course).

Without the special capability of getting left handed batters out, it would not surprise me if a soon to be 32 year old Matt Grace spends the entire 2021 season in AAA.