This is not the panicked question of a suddenly confident Mets fan after Harvey took his first loss of the 2015 season on Friday night. It is the spoken-out-loud question this Mets fan has been asking for two or three weeks now. On Friday, Harvey struggled, and gave up three earned runs to the Phillies, a mediocre performance he blamed on extra rest.
Perhaps the better question is: What is different about Matt Harvey? Or: Is there something wrong with Matt Harvey?
Harvey Day (or #HarveyDay for my Twitter bretheren) is an event not only for Mets fans, but baseball fans around the country. His electric and exciting return had fans and pundits excited for his return to being among at least the Top 5 pitchers in baseball. I said as much after the first week of action.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Cy Young Award.
The problem (or issue) is this: Matt Harvey looks different than he did in 2013, and different than he did in his first start or two. The dominant hurler with electric stuff had become an efficient pitcher not afraid to draw contact and eschew obscene strikeout totals for outs made on the ground and in the air. He struck out between seven and nine hitters in each of his first four starts, and combined for seven in his last two starts.
It wouldn’t be the first time in the organization that a pitcher changed his approach. Bobby Parnell let up on the gas before his own Tommy John surgery in order to conserve pitch totals, and a couple of mph on the gun. He was a better pitcher after the surgery. Maybe that’s what Matt Harvey is doing under the instruction of Dan Warthen.
But I doubt it. Here are the numbers:
|FastballVelocity||K/9||BB/9||Swinging Strike %||ERA||WHIP||BA Against|
*Swinging Strike Percent is the percent of total pitches resulting in a swing and a miss
You can argue that the 2015 version of Harvey is actually better. He has better control, virtually the same velocity (plus pitchers generally have slightly lower velocities in April), his WHIP is identical, with slight decreases in K/9, Swinging Strike percentage and batting average against.
I’d add that his GB percentage so far has fallen from 47.7 percent to 42.5 percent while he’s given up more fly balls: 32.5 to 38.7 percent. His groundball tilt is coming close to his fly ball frequency.
He’s still a very good pitcher, without a doubt. But these numbers, combined with the good old fashioned “eye test” tell me that danger might be lurking.
Here is the most damning piece of evidence:
|Fastball Frequency*||Slider Frequency|
*As measured by PitchF/X
In 2013, hitters batted .214 off of Harvey’s slider; this season they are batting just .125. Hitters are only doing a touch better (.214) off of Harvey’s fastball this year than in 2013 (.210). The slider, of course, is the pitch that most strains the arm. So one of two things is true: Harvey’s arm is sore/weak or he’s being cautious with his sliders out of fear of damaging his arm again. If hitters are not hitting it this year, why not throw it more often?
Anyone who has watched Harvey knows he has two speeds: Full speed and Stop. To change your repertoire by changing 10 percent of your pitches seems a bit extreme for a bulldog competitor.
Harvey’s “problems” right now are baseball’s version of “First World Problems,” like not getting the window table at your favorite fancy restaurant. But his approach seems clearly different. Perhaps it’s a mechanical issue, perhaps it’s legitimate caution to keep him healthy, maybe it’s just the small sample size.
But I watch Matt Harvey and I say Matt Harvey is not right. Until I see swings and misses on a zipping fastball, a slippery slider and a nasty curveball, I’m going to wonder: What is wrong with Matt Harvey?
Harvey’s next start is in Wrigley Field, a house of horrors for the Mets. If I owned him, I would sell high before the discomfort is reported. What we are asking of him, and perhaps expecting, in his first season after Tommy John surgery, has never happened before. So the chances of Harvey being Harvey are not overwhelming to begin with. But he’s different than he was in 2013, and different than he was in his first two starts.
I don’t like what I see. If you want to assume the risk, go ahead, but I’ve got a red flag of caution on Matt Harvey.