Hurt or selfish, Matt Harvey still isn’t right

Brooksbaseball-ChartThe state of affairs surrounding Matt Harvey remains as lucid as mud.

He will pitch. He won’t pitch. He may pitch. He may not pitch. Harvey and agent Scott Boras caught everyone off guard last week with a hard 180-inning limit, and he’s already at 166.1 innings. That includes the playoffs too, leaving Mets fans with nightmares of Stephen Strasburg in 2012.

Public opinion of both pitcher and agent took a nose dive over the weekend. Harvey went from the Dark Knight and beloved source of #HarveyDay to Two Face and a selfish pariah that needs to be traded in the off-season. And most of that is coming directly from the reporters and columnists who cover the Mets.

“Go ahead. Be mad. Be furious. Boil all of your venom and aim it all at Matt Harvey, who’s got it coming. Harvey has proven to be the worst kind of sporting phony — the fake tough guy, a fugazi in full, all talk and no action. Rip away,” a colorful Mike Vaccaro wrote for the New York Post.

Fans cheered Harvey on as he flipped off the camera after Tommy John surgery, promising to return sooner than expected. Fans cheered when Harvey won his first game back and the opening series against Washington. Fans cheered as he publicly criticized the six-man rotation and skipping his rotation. But without provocation, and led by the greed-fueled Boras, Harvey promptly turned about face, showing his back to loyal fans.

The damage control began late Sunday. Harvey pledged in a public essay to pitch in the playoffs should the team earn a berth. The pitcher also said he, doctors and team officials would craft a plan for the remaining games – 26 as of Monday morning. A six-man rotation will be back in the fold for those games, as of Monday, with Logan Verrett picking up any slack from Harvey. And then word broke Harvey may start in fewer than four more regular season games, including Tuesday’s game in Washington and at home against the Nationals in the final series.

But what if all of this is a strawman? What if this is a smokescreen. What if there’s another, more imperative question?

Can he pitch?

There are more than a few New Yorkers and baseball folks wondering if Harvey is hurting. Obviously he hasn’t said anything publicly, but the timing for Boras’ provocative comments is curious. Dr. James Andrew performed Tommy John surgery in October 2013, an operation with a 12-15-month recovery period for Major League pitchers. Andrews also contributed to a Tommy John FAQ hosted by MLB, pointing to a recent study that finds 19 percent of patients will have another elbow surgery and 25 percent will have shoulder surgery. Meanwhile, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright said he needed another full year to get back to full-strength, relying solely on his curveball in 2012.

Reviewing the 2015 campaign through early September, Harvey has had a few blips on the radar. He threw six scoreless innings against Washington on April 9, but gave up seven earned runs in 12 innings to Philadelphia and Miami before holding the Yankees to a pair of runs over 8.2 innings to end the month. He yielded seven earned runs once in late May and again in early June. A 2-1 win over Washington on July 31 kept his ERA for the month from going over 3. Through 25 games, Harvey has given up no runs eight times and 11 times struck out at least seven batters. But there’s also been five times opposing teams scored at least four earned runs and July saw an uncharacteristic 14:29 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

Evaluating the numbers behind Harvey’s pitches may or may not expose an injury or correlation to some of those crooked numbers, but it does reveal a pitcher trying to prevent future damage. Like most of his brethren, Harvey pitches off the four-seam fastball – throwing it 50-60 percent since 2012 at an average of 96 MPH. That story began features no Shyamalan-ian surprises, but his breaking pitches and off-speed stuff offer quite a twist.

Back in 2013 – his first full, healthy year, Harvey threw a breaking pitch 31.85 percent of the time and tossed an off-speed pitch 11.4 percent of the time. But outside of May, the post-Tommy John Harvey is less likely to throw a breaking pitch; and in the last few months he’s more likely to throw an off-speed pitch. Compared to an almost 24-point difference between the two in May, breaking pitches since August are less than 24 percent of Harvey’s offerings and off-speed stuff makes up almost 13.5 percent.

The speed of the ball coming out of his hand is also noticeably different in 2015. His fastball is close enough, maybe half a MPH slower than 2013. But both the breaking and off-speed pitches have changed radically. Harvey typically threw both at the same speed in 2012 and 2013 – around 86 MPH in the former and 88 MPH in the latter. This year, however, there’s quite a split. On average, his breaking stuff is almost 2 MPH slower than off-speed pitches – 87.13 MPH and 88.95 MPH, respectively. That includes a July and August about a mile-per-hour apart and wider gaps in May and September. Harvey is also throwing his off-speed stuff harder than ever, flirting with 90 MPH, and his breaking stuff at far less consistent speeds. Straight lines measuring those speeds in 2012 and 2013 were the norm, but the 2015 line is a roller coaster from 85 MPH to almost 89 MPH.

Does any of this pitch analysis reveal if Two-Face… the Dark Knight… Harvey is hurt? Not definitively, but it does reveal a pitcher who’s still not right. It also suggests he’s the most successful when he’s throwing more breaking pitches than off-speed stuff but they come out of his hand at the same speed.

13 comments for “Hurt or selfish, Matt Harvey still isn’t right

  1. MetsRealist
    September 7, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    Who cares what he’s throwing as long as the results are there?

    Last 10 starts 5-2 with 8.33 K/9 and 2.28 BB/9. 2.01 ERA and 3.26 FIP.

    The walks are high but he is coming off TJ surgery. I’m more concerned with the HR/9 than I am with anything.

    I would like to see the effects of bringing the fences in.

  2. NCMetFan
    September 7, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Harvey played this wrong & revealed himself as a self serving opportunist. Alderson should let him pitch, skip a start then put him in the rotation and let Harvey say he can’t pitch. Then skip his starts. Of course that’s why I’m not a GM, a bit too vindictive and think Harvey should be called out for all his bullsh#@ complaining about having to deal with a 6 man rotation and having starts skipped. I guess he wanted to get shutdown on August 31 all along. Harvey’s been exposed as a BS artist. He should shut up and pitch or acknowledge the team was trying to accommodate his recovery and be gracious and compliant. Grow up.

    • Peter Hyatt
      September 8, 2015 at 9:26 am

      I’m with you, NC, except “grow up” is a bit optimistic. He does not have parents telling him to settle down, be serious, raise a family, stay off Page Six, practice your craft, get 8 hours sleep, live baseball…

      This isn’t them.

      Listen to the bitterness in Alderson. This is not a 21 year old kid being stupid. Met management has had it with him.

  3. Matty Mets
    September 7, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    I’m with Mets Realist. The HRs allowed concern me more than anything else.

    I hope Harvey pitches lights out tomorrow, in his remaining starts and in the playoffs so we can put this all to bed. If he gets hurt that’s one thing, but if he’s healthy he needs to get his entitled ass on the hill and do what he’s paid to do.

  4. September 8, 2015 at 12:46 am

    This team really could use an ace to settle them down, but I still don’t believe Harvey is either 100 percent committed to his teammates or healthy. Why are the numbers so different a year removed from surgery?

  5. Peter Hyatt
    September 8, 2015 at 9:24 am

    I think Harvey has just gone too far and should be trade bait. I agree with the others that say he bolts for the Bronx in 3 years.
    I attributed things early on to immaturity, post-modernism, self-esteem on steroids, but he is not a team player and may be more of a poison in the club house. His diva demands, love of alcohol and night life, and low emotional intelligence (self awareness) could spell for a loss.
    I know commentators wanted him to fire Scott Boras but they are peas of the same pod.
    If you watch his body language, or can see the videos, check out his reactions to DeGrom’s hitting, or Noah HR. He is not pleased. He is a talented narcissist who may be his own undoing.
    Sandy Alderson needed a reason to trade him and I’d love to bring back a hitter while seeing Harvey sent to…Colorado, or any low media place.
    If he were to get one of our young pitching stars hooked on substance abuse, it would be a tragic loss. None of us know the impact of him taking a separate plan has on young 20 somethings who live and work together for so many months a year.

    Consider this as a possibility only.

    Note Matt Harvey’s run support is extremely low.

    Is this a coincidence or is there a psychological reason?

    *players give less for him? Or, do they expect him to throw zeros and give less? I don’t know.

    I look at the body fat beneath his chin, and its the same you see from excessive low quality carbs from alcohol, even though he says “no alcohol 48 hours before pitching.” Then, look at his dehydration. Nosebleeds. Love of night life. Desire to be front and center irking team mates.

    On the other side is this incredible fastball and desire to win.

    I think that there is enough anti-Harvey sentiment to the point right now where if we falter post season and bitterness remains, he is traded in the off season.

    If he shines the media will excuse his behavior.

    With his diva-animosity towards management, I do not see him playing his career with us.

    The other alternative is to use him up in the next three seasons, and when he whines, put him in the bullpen for middle relief as “limiting his innings”…this might send a signal.

    No matter how much we love his pitching, he is classified as a “jerk” in a league where “top ten hated players” lists are very popular among fans.

    Instead, take $ and offer Yoenis a reason to stay in New York. He is obviously handling NY really well. With Zach Wheeler returning next year, we could have a fine young pitching rotation and adding a young, strong bat for Harvey would be sweet.

  6. Metsense
    September 8, 2015 at 9:24 am

    I thought this article written in the Spring was a good indicator of what to expect from Harvey in 2015.http://metsblog.com/metsblog/what-should-the-mets-expect-from-matt-harvey-in-2015/
    Your article identifies that the strikeouts are down and home runs are up. I think it is just the result of the post surgery and not an injury problem.
    The Mets have been very cautious with their star. The Harvey camp never spoke of a shutdown, seemed resistant to earlier skipped turns and griped about the six man rotation. If the Harvey camp brought up the issue prior to the 140th inning then the Mets could have adjusted.
    Baseball is a business. I never expected Harvey to be here in 2019. He was always going to test the free agent waters. The Mets should offer an extension the next two winters that will probably be turned down. Trade him before the third winter and retool much like Tampa does. The name on the front of the uniform is Mets not Harvey.

  7. DED
    September 8, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Two thoughts regarding Harvey and all this innings limit noise:

    Harvey was down, inactive, for several months longer than most Tommy John recovery cases, having had his surgery in Fall of 2013 and having had a full season plus two off-seasons to recover. I have to believe that detail would figure in calculating his limits.

    I was trying to think back to a pitcher who actually threw 200 innings after the TJ surgery, and in about 2 seconds I came up with one: Tommy John! John threw 207 innings his first year back. He did pay a price, however; over the next five seasons he was only able to pitch 1,115 1/3 innings, and build a record of 89-43. Who knows how much better he would have done with responsible innings limits that first year?

    • James Preller
      September 8, 2015 at 11:19 am

      DED, you are going on bad information. You need to look at pitchers who went beyond their career IP. Comparing Matt’s situation to Tommy John misses the point entirely.

      The more I read, the more comments I hear, the more I feel a degree of sympathy for Matt Harvey (who, contrary the article here, appears to be healthy at this point . . . that is, healthy for a pitcher recovering from TJ surgery. Of course he’s not at 100%).

      Let’s all step back for a moment.

      Before the Great Kerfuffle . . .

      Matt Harvey was at 166 IP and scheduled for 4 regular-season starts. His previous high, in 2013, was 178. Let’s say Matt ends the season at 190 IP. Once the playoffs began, Matt would have been in line for anywhere from 1-5 additional starts.

      So it was absolutely right for Boras to question the Mets on what they are planning for Matt. The issue is almost entirely with *the way* it was handled, not that Matt Harvey’s agent stepped in — with Matt’s full knowledge, I’m sure — to represent the health and well-being of his pitcher.

      I believe they are justifiably concerned with Matt’s health. They don’t want to see him get hurt and destroy his career. They don’t want his arm pushed too far. I don’t blame them.

      Sure, no one knows where “too far” is, but that does not negate the concern. At a certain point, you are generating more risk.

      Pushing aside the PR issues, Boras has gotten the Mets to capitulate. Harvey is now at 180 IP for the regular season, not 190-195.

      Come the playoffs, and a potential WS run, I see Harvey at 20 additional IP, ending up at 200. Again, I don’t think that makes Boras or Harvey evil people. If they said nothing, if Scott didn’t do his thing, then the Mets could have conceivably planned to use Matt up to around 220.

      Boras had to do his job on behalf of his client.

      At the same time, I don’t think this makes the Mets bad guys in this situation. But I can totally understand the position of Boras-Harvey that they didn’t want to exceed 178 by too great a number.

      It all should have been worked out behind closed doors. It could not have been handled worse.

      Boras does not care how he’s portrayed in the media. He’s doing a job for his client and has a thick skin. In this case, he won. The downside, and where you can fault him, is that he left Harvey out to dry, wholly unprepared to face the media in that interview. Matt has come off very badly, in part by his own doing. He’s worried primarily about Matt Harvey. Okay, fine.

      If healthy, Matt Harvey faces a future where all of his wildest dreams come true. He plays for 15 years, earns hundreds of millions, dates supermodels, and wears pinstripes. What’s more, he sets up his family for life — his parents, his children, his grandchildren — and leaves a legacy that lasts for generations. Pretty awesome.

      If he’s not healthy, none of that happens. Is 180 a magic number. Of course not. But I get that he doesn’t want to risk it all, at the same time trying to balance that with his genuine desire to pitch in the playoffs, be a star, be the Dark Knight.

      Not an easy situation for anyone, especially for Matt Harvey.

      Like I said, I’ve grown sympathetic.

      • DED
        September 8, 2015 at 7:08 pm

        Well, who knows whether anyone is still on this page, but since you have grown sympathetic to Matt’s case, JP, I’ll try and remain dry-eyed. It’s only fair.

        Certainly a pitcher’s previous workload has something to do with his future expectations, injury or not. Why Tommy John’s pre-injury workloads would determine what he could do after the surgery I am not entirely certain, since I thought the idea was that you had a rebuilt arm and the past was the past, the future a new slate, but I do take your point, up to a point.

        The fact that Harvey had 17 or 17 months to recover, whereas Zack Wheeler, say, is scheduled to return in 14 or so months, should play into our expectations, I believe. I don’t believe you commented on that.

        More to the point, I really do not believe that innings alone have so much to do with a pitcher’s health. Pitch count in a game, more likely; number of heavy innings maybe moreso. I am not a doctor, which means that I have no empirical evidence to back up this common sense observation; it also means that I have no vested interest in keeping pitchers healthy, which could actually lead to a more straightforward conclusion on my part. Doesn’t it make more sense to you, that an injury is more likely to occur from overwork in the short term, than from a simple season’s total?

        Harvey is a strikeout pitcher, and as such will never run up a series of low pitch count games. He is a pretty efficient pitcher for a strikeout pitcher, however, and the Mets have not overworked him from this aspect during the 2015 season. Matt has made 26 starts for the Mets this year; his highest pitch count to date is 115 pitches, from June 21. It was the only time he exceeded 110 pitches this year.

        Contrast this with Zach Wheeler’s 2014 season. From June 30 to September 1, Zack made 12 starts, with the following pitch counts: 113, 111, 114, 106, 108, 112, 109, 112, 120, 103, 117, 114. If you are looking for pitcher abuse, this might be the place to look. That was Zach’s heaviest load, but he threw a lot of pitches most of the time.

        Look, but you won’t find, if you’re stuck on innings. Zack pitched 7 or more innings exactly twice. Matt Harvey had met or exceeded seven innings many times, even with the lower pitch counts.

        To sum up: sure, Harvey’s health will be of concern to him and those who hope to profit from his ongoing health; it is only natural that this be so. I do not believe in Magic Bullets or simple, absolute truths, in virtually any instance; and this hard innings limit is just another example of that thinking. Those devices are excuses for not examining and deciding the given case at hand, and I will not go along with it; the world is simply more complicated than that.

  8. September 8, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    I’m sorry but I disagree with those who say he has to consider his future foremost.
    He should be considering what it means to his teammates as most important. I’m with the camp that says trade him. What happens next year if he and Boras decide that 190 is his limit? Everything I have read, including other GM quotes, says no doctor has ever put a hard limit on any pitcher after this surgery. Only Harvey and his agent state that it is a hard limit. If he is hurt, send him home. If not, man up and pitch. I just hope the Mets can make it to the post season in spite of his “I come first” attitude. He says he doesn’t understand the vitriol from the press and fans. What is he, 16 years old?? Get a major league shortstop and some young arms in return if possible and send him away.

  9. Peter Hyatt
    September 8, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Today I heard a commentary that went something like this…

    ‘Today’s ball players in considering tagging up from third might pause to think about their contractual future before barreling home and crashing into a catcher. Today’s ball players might want to consider abandoning diving for the ball, and risking injury to their future contract…and today’s ball player…’

    I recognize how unpopular this is to today’s commentators, but I hated when a batting title finalist took himself out of a game to ‘protect’ his league average.

    It is a different mindset today.

    A very different mindset.

    By the way, I get that Boras is to protect his client’s interests, but to go to media the way he did? Something is very wrong in Metsland.

  10. September 8, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    The more I read “man up” type comments, the more I’m sympathetic to Matt Harvey.

    He’s the only guy out there taking any risk. Nobody else. And yes, the risk is hundreds of millions of dollars and a professional career in baseball. He’s not crazy to be cautious about that.

    I think Pedro Martinez is right. They are trying to get to postseason at 180 IP, then he’ll be good for another 20 IP or so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: