Over the last several seasons the Detroit Tigers’ win-loss record has been less than ideal, but one thing they’ve been able to do is develop pitching — specifically relief pitching. Sometimes it meant refining what was already there, sometimes it meant pulling one out of thin air.
With each passing trade deadline, the Tigers tend to sell these relievers off for prospects in hopes of getting back to a competitive level. While they’re getting closer and closer, the relief pitching development is staying pretty consistent. One of the more intriguing relief prospects coming through the pipeline right now is Tyler Mattison.
The Tigers used a fourth round pick in 2021 on the right-hander out of Bryant University. He made his pro debut in the spring of 2022, but a shoulder injury in that first appearance kept him out until June. He was effective in Lakeland when he returned, striking out 53 hitters in 39 2⁄3 innings of work.
Mattison started the 2023 season in High-A West Michigan, where he struck out over 15 batters per nine while posting a 3.42 ERA in the process. He had a couple bouts of home runs trouble, but showed enough to earn a promotion to Double-A Erie where he’s started off with 11 scoreless innings while striking out 42.1 percent of batters faced, though his walk rate is also elevated.
His dominance and the Tigers penchant for developing bullpen arms makes Mattison an very interesting internal candidate to potentially fill a bullpen role within the next year or two.
Much of this breakdown is based on this compilation video of his 11 Double-A innings, courtesy of our friends at Tigers Minor League Report.
Mattison works with a fastball, curveball, and changeup. His fastball and curveball get the lion’s share of usage, but his changeup has excellent arm side run as well when he throws it. He works in the upper-90’s with velocity, sitting mostly between 95-97 MPH. His main secondary is that breaking ball that has very tight and quick north to south movement, and he can keep hitters off balance with a changeup.
Much of his confidence on the mound lies with his fastball, but hitters can’t just sit fastball first pitch because he’s liable to try and drop in a breaking ball. When he’s in a jam the heat is most likely coming. There’s a reason for that. It rides through the zone really nicely, particularly in the upper third. He also has a sinker variation, too. Both consistently generate a high number of whiffs.
When he opts for the breaking ball, he can get whiffs breaking out of the zone, but there is some inconsistency in the release that leads to some hanging breaking balls, or just missing up with the pitch. Generally he won’t do that multiple times to a hitter, but as hitters get better it only takes one mistake. His 1.71 HR/9, while only in a 26 inning sample size in High-A, is evidence that he can get hit hard.
His changeup runs quite a bit to his arm side, but it doesn’t get as much usage as the other two pitches. Mattison can change pace with the pitch, or just give a hitter a different look before going back to his regular fastball/curveball combo.
There’s a very subtle potential tip in Mattison’s delivery at present. When he throws a fastball or changeup he will tap the ball into the glove at the top of the balance point, but when he throws a breaking ball he doesn’t do that.
As an example, here’s a fastball:
Here is the same part of his delivery, but for a breaking ball:
Again, it’s a subtle movement and it’s hard to see in those isolated GIFs. However, it’s there. Whether that is noticeable by hitters is another question. If it becomes an issue, then Mattison and the organization will have to quash it. Right now, it’s not affecting anything, so it’s nothing more than a tidbit of information.
You can also get an idea of the deception in his arm action in these clips. He breaks his hands fairly low and then whips his arm up into a nearly over the top slot and release. Hitters tends to pick it up a little late as the ball appears almost from behind his head. It’s not a huge amount of deception, but as a reliever it does make him tricky to pick up initially.
Mattison has a good starting point for the Tigers to build a solid reliever. He will keep living and dying by his fastball. The data backing and velocity give that pitch the edge it should need to be a viable pitch every step of the way. It’s effective and because of it, Mattison is effective. The more he can command it, the better he’s going to be, and he already does a pretty solid job of it.
What he’ll need to do is find consistency among his secondaries. His breaking pitch is working, and while its spin profile isn’t ideal, the Tigers should be able to tune him in a little more. He just needs to command it a little more consistently and ideally, throw it a bit harder with better extension. His changeup could be a weapon as well if he finds more confidence in it. In terms of projecting his future, that reliable secondary will be a big step.
The performance is in Mattison’s favor right now. His breaking ball might continue to play off the strength of his fastball, too. Right now seemingly no one can touch Mattison and that bodes well for an organization that continues to prove their ability to develop bullpen arms.