What in the World Is Going on With Matt Harvey?
The world is full of mysteries. From Stonehenge, to Area 51, to the success of Donald Trump's political career, there are some things in life that just cannot be explained.
The struggles of New York Mets starter Matt Harvey is quickly moving up the ranks as one of baseball's biggest mysteries. The former ace is having a heck of a time here in 2016. After Tuesday night's loss to the Washington Nationals in which he lasted just 5 innings and gave up 5 earned runs on 8 hits with 2 walks, 1 strikeout and 3 home runs allowed, his season totals have gone from troubling to ghastly.
Through 10 starts, Harvey has an ERA of 6.08 and a fielding independent pitching of 4.38. His strikeouts per nine (7.43) are way down from his career totals (9.24), his walks per nine (2.87) are up a bit (2.08), and his home runs per nine innings (1.35) is way up over his career numbers (0.71).
Last year, Harvey gave up 18, by far a career high for him. He's already given up 8 this season.
And no one really seems to know why this is happening, even Harvey himself.
In 57 career starts coming into the 2016 season, Harvey had an ERA of 2.53 in 65 career starts. Yes, there was a Tommy John surgery thrown in there, but he was still mighty effective last season, the year after his surgery. Nationals hitters continued to bomb him on Tuesday night, continuing a season long trend. Here's a look at his game log from this season.
Harvey has yet to pitch more than six innings in any start this year. So just what the heck is going on?
There is no doubt his fastball velocity is down a bit this year, but is it really down by enough to warrant these kinds of changes?
Yes, it's down a little more than a mile per hour over last year. But 94.0 mph is still pretty hard, and it's not that much different than his 2012 velocity, when he broke into the big leagues with a splash.
No, the velocity alone doesn't explain this.
Now here is where we might have something. Take a look at his fastball location from this year (charts courtesy of Brooks Baseball).
And here's a look at his fastball location last year.
The charts indicate Harvey is leaving more fastballs out over the plate so far this season, perhaps one of the reasons teams are hitting .331 against his fastball this season, whereas last year opponents batted .247 against it and .215 in 2013 (Harvey missed all of 2014 due to injury).
This is perhaps where Harvey's real problems lie.
In 2015, opponents batted .188 against his slider. In 2013 it was .199. This season, hitters are knocking Harvey's slider around to the tune of a .405 batting average. And one reason could be he's not throwing it as hard this season.
Because of the decreased velocity, there has been more vertical and horizontal movement, which in Harvey's case may not be a good thing. A harder, sharper break on his slider makes it look more like a fastball out of the hand. Perhaps hitters have been identifying it more easily this season.
And the location is a bit off as well. Here is where they've ended up this season.
And here's where they were last year.
As you can see, Harvey has been leaving his slider a bit more over the middle of the plate, and has been getting it down and away to right-handed hitters with a little less frequency than last year.
At the end of the day, it doesn't seem like the issues with Harvey are major. His fastball and slider velocity are both down a bit, but it's not a steep drop, at least on his fastball. And while his slider is getting knocked around, it appears to be more a location issue, something that can be tweaked with a mechanical adjustment.
And this healthy reminder that, sometimes, young pitchers struggle.
Matt Harvey's struggles this season are similar to those of Stephen Strasburg through this same date last year. pic.twitter.com/kl7SN8Au9R
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 25, 2016
And I think we can all agree that Stephen Strasburg has recovered nicely from his issues last year.
So, in the end, I don't think there's a lot to be worried about with Harvey. This might just be one of those rough patches a young pitcher must work through. And it might be ugly for a while.
But the odds are better than not he'll get through it.