Phil Maton doesn’t really care for the science of sport.
The Tri-City Dust Devils rookie closer would much rather keep it simple. The 20th-round draft pick by the San Diego Padres out of Louisiana Tech wants nothing more than to come out of the bullpen with the game on the line, lock in on a few hitters and do the job he’s paid to do: keep runners off the basepaths.
“I just enjoy every time I go out and pitch,” Maton said. “I love going out and battling against hitters. I treat every hitter the same. Obviously, there’s a plan to get them out. You can’t get everybody out the same way. But when there’s two strikes and you really execute that pitch — everything goes just right, and they swing through — it’s a good feeling putting all the pieces together.”
The 6-foot-3 right-hander is a big reason the Dust Devils are battling for a Northwest League North Division championship Tuesday night at Gesa Stadium.
Not only is Maton sixth in the NWL with six saves and tied for seventh with 58 strikeouts, but he also holds the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio in the league at 11.6 whiffs to one walk. He leads Tri-City with a 1.38 ERA and has a 4-2 record.
“The best pitch in baseball is a located fastball, and he locates his fastball pretty well,” Tri-City catcher A.J. Kennedy said. “He’s what you call a max-effort pitcher. There’s not a lot of finesse in his wind-up or delivery, and he uses it to his advantage.”
There’s another aspect of his delivery that appeals to the sport-science geeks out there, and that’s the spin rate of his pitches. According to a study by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, the average major league fastball has a spin rate between 2,000 and 2,200 revolutions per minute. Maton’s fastball registers between 2,400 and 2,600 RPM.
“When your spin rate is high, it gives the illusion that the ball is actually rising and jumping out of the zone,” Dust Devils manager Anthony Contreras said.
That’s a good reason Maton, 22, might be experiencing such a successful transition from facing metal bats in college to a softer wood core at the professional level.
“That ‘invisible fastball,’ as we like to call it, is going to miss a lot more wood bats in the sweet spots,” Contreras said. “Even if guys do make contact, they aren’t making solid contact.”
Another reason for his athletic success is genes. Maton’s father, Phil, and mother, Ellen, were competitive athletes at Eastern Illinois University — his dad in track and field, and his mom in volleyball. Younger brothers Marc, Nick and Jake are carving out their own paths to athletic excellence.
“We’re a big sports family,” Maton said. “We watched a lot of sports growing up, and my brothers and I played a lot of sports. (My parents) gave us great opportunities to succeed.”
Marc, 20, runs cross country at Southeast Missouri State University, and Jake is a sophomore pitcher/third baseman at Glenwood High School in Chatham, Ill.
Nick, 18, was also selected — along with his brother — in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft in the 40th round by the Oakland Athletics but chose to attend Eastern Illinois on a baseball scholarship.
“That’s a tough jump (from high school). I don’t know if he’s ready for that kind of freedom (of professional baseball),” Maton said of Nick, a pitcher/shortstop. “I don’t know if I would have been able to do that at 18, but I wasn’t as good as he is at this point in his life. He developed a little quicker than I did.”