Matt Harvey made his return from the DL last Saturday and to the surprise of almost no one, he was pounded. The reason it wasn’t a surprise is that minor leaguers were lighting him up in his too brief rehab assignment. If minor leaguers were hitting him, how was he going to get major league hitters out? In a less predictable occurrence, Harvey asked to pitch on short rest and the Mets were going to oblige him. However, the threat of rain caused the Mets to refrain from their original plan and instead pitch him tonight on standard rest.
My opinion was that the chance to face a weaker lineup in the Phillies would have more of a chance of resulting in a good outing for Harvey than a start on normal rest against the Reds. And that at this point in time, there’s so little downside to another Harvey injury that whatever risk may have been by pitching on short rest wasn’t anything over which to lose any sleep.
In our hearts, we all want Harvey to be the guy he was in 2013 and 2015. But we have to acknowledge that the chance of seeing that guy again is slim. He wasn’t good in 2016 and he wasn’t good in 2017 and now he has had three major injuries as the result of pitching. Baseball-wise, nothing would make me happier than to see Harvey on the mound intimidating batters with 98 mph heat. But at this point that seems as likely as the Publisher’s Clearing House people knocking on my door with an oversized check.
Ideally, we’d see velocity, movement and location when Harvey pitches. Instead we got a guy who was either nibbling or throwing meatballs over the heart of the plate. Let’s look at two charts from Harvey’s last start. This first image shows his overall pitch location:
While he may not have thrown any pitches over the direct heart of the plate, there are no shortage of offerings in the middle third of the zone, whether you slice the strike zone horizontally or vertically. Additionally, I count 25 pitches that were not in the strike zone. Now, let’s look at a chart of pitches that the batter took and the umpire made the call:
There were 20 pitches in the top half of the zone from the first chart and we see from the second chart that batters swung at 17 of those. And since we know the results of the game weren’t pretty, Harvey was not blowing guys away by pitching upstairs.
There are two other things interesting from this chart. One is that Harvey threw 13 pitches in the strike zone that batters did not offer at and five of these were called balls. And these were not pitches right on the edge, either. When you’re not dominating hitters, it hurts to have 38% of your strikes called balls.
The second thing that stands out is that Harvey did not have much luck in getting batters to chase pitches out of the zone. We see from the first chart that he threw 25 pitches out of the zone and batters swung at just five of those. Back in 2013, Harvey had a 35.8 O-Swing% and this year it’s 28.5% and in this last game it was just 20%.
Harvey needs more velocity, he needs better location and he needs more calls from the umpire. Perhaps once he makes progress on these fronts, he’ll start to get more swings out of the zone. You wouldn’t want to wager on the results tonight being much different than what they were five days ago, when he allowed 7 ER in 2 IP. Maybe he goes an inning or two more and maybe he gives up one or two runs fewer.
I’ll be pulling for him because he was a wonderful pitcher and I want to see that guy again. Even if that’s the heart talking more than the head.