Fantasy Baseball: Can Matt Harvey Bounce Back?

Harvey has struggled both on and off the field this season. Can he return to form, or is it time for fantasy owners to move on?

Not too long ago, as the New York Mets raced to a World Series appearance in 2015, the sky appeared to be the limit. They had a pile of young, talented arms, some of whom were on the cusp of being big-time contributors -- Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Matt Harvey were setting some lofty expectations for the rabid Big Apple fan base.

But things haven't gone as planned, as the Mets' stable of arms have all hit the shelf with injuries at one point or another. Harvey, the ace of that 2015 squad, is now exception.

He has enjoyed quite the up and down career. After being named to the All-Star team in 2013, Harvey missed all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. Harvey was brilliant in 2015, but after a tough start to 2016, Harvey elected to have shoulder surgery, which limited him to only 92 2/3 innings pitched.

So far in 2017, Harvey has been embroiled in controversy, and after these most recent off-field incidents occurred, he received a three-game suspension.

While those incidents have been a headache, they provided a distraction from Harvey's 2017 performance, which has been flat-out poor.

Can Harvey revisit to the good old days, or is what we see, what we'll get? Let's dig in and find out.

Breaking Down Harvey's 2017 Season

By nearly any metric, 2017 has been Harvey's worst season of his career.

Season Innings SIERA Strikeout Rate Walk Rate Swinging-Strike Rate
2013 178.1 2.63 27.7% 4.5% 12.6%
2015 189.1 3.23 24.9% 4.9% 11.6%
2016 92.2 4.31 18.9% 6.2% 10.1%
2017 35.0 4.95 13.5% 8.8% 7.4%

This isn't what fantasy owners expected from Harvey. The market wasn't too hot on him -- he was the 37th starting pitcher off the board, per National Fantasy Baseball Championship data -- but even that is looking like a reach right now.

While undergoing two major surgeries in three years would give anyone pause about a pitcher's future performance, Harvey's 2015 statistics, post-Tommy John, were outstanding. And it was reasonable to think that it would take him some time to round into form after that major surgery, but he was able to shake off that rust pretty quickly.

Following this most recent surgery, however, we've seen significant changes in Harvey's performance. And it's been a slight change in pitch mix and performance that's driving that decline.

Mixed Up?

Looking over Harvey's pitch detail from 2013 to 2017, Harvey's array of pitches doesn't seem to stand out too far. But there has been a subtle change in his mix that has had an impact. The chart below from Brooks Baseball gives a great picture into his pitch usage as a percentage of pitches thrown:

Harvey's fastball usage hasn't changed -- but what does stand out is a slight uptick in that red line. Harvey has traded off using his curveball for his slider. On a percentage basis, from last season to this season, Harvey has used his curve about three percent less (10.1% to 6.8%) and started using his slider about three percent more (18.8% to 22.3%). That's critical when you understand Harvey's result on his slider this season.

An Elite Pitch Turned Sour

Harvey is starting to get accustomed to some deep flies, many of which come off of breaking pitches, just like this one last year.

While that change in pitch mix may seem small, the results on that slider have been downright horrific. Isolating Harvey's off-speed deliveries further hammers that point home.

Since that fantastic 2015 season, opponents are hammering Harvey's slider. In 2015, he threw 428 sliders and allowed a .063 isolated slugging percentage (ISO) on that slider. That's pretty damn good.

In 2017, he's allowed a .207 ISO. That's pretty damn bad. As a point of comparison, the league is averaging a .163 ISO across all at-bats this season.

In peeking at another metric, Harvey's slugging percentage allowed on sliders, for both 2016 and 2017, is well over .400 (.438 and .417, respectively). That mark was only .250 in 2015.

Time to Jump Ship?

It's been no secret that the Mets have been a bit of a circus -- from injuries to poor on-field performance and antics off of it, with Matt Harvey front and center. This was not part of the plan for the 2017 season.

Unfortunately for Harvey, he's had two incredibly tough setbacks to his career. While he came back admirably after the first one, his performance after his most recent surgery would indicate he's not quite back to the Harvey of old.

Harvey's currently struggling through the worst marks of his career across the board -- his walk rate is up, his SIERA is up, and his strikeout rate is down. While Harvey appears to be throwing with the same velocity, averaging 94.3 miles per hour this season versus 94.4 last season, he's changed what pitches he's thrown -- namely more sliders and less curveballs. And that hasn't been good.

Dan Warthen, the Mets pitching coach, famously invented "the Warthen slider," and many Mets have adopted it to great success. Teammate Noah Syndergaard and fellow flamethrower Chris Sale are among those who have leaned heavily on an elite slider to great success in 2017. Check out the horizontal movement on Sale's slider compared to Harvey's so far in 2017 and Harvey's in 2012.

NamePitches ThrownHorizontal Movement (in.)
Chris Sale 20172146.32
Matt Harvey 20121211.21
Matt Harvey 2017121-0.39

That's not a typo: Harvey's slider this season has basically stopped moving horizontally -- in fact, it's actually moving back in towards right-handed hitters, exactly what you don't want out of a slider -- and, he's throwing it about 3% more than he was previously. You don't have to be a pitching guru to figure out that a flat slider is going to cause some disastrous results.

Unless Harvey can rediscover some magic on his slider or change his approach, as fantasy owners, it may be time time to cut bait or get what you can via trade.