Matt Harvey, Overwhelming

Matt Harvey didn’t throw a no-hitter against the Braves on Tuesday, but he did almost do that, not allowing a hit until the bottom of the seventh. It’s not that Harvey relied entirely on the strikeout — of the batters he faced, 13 didn’t whiff. But then, of the batters he faced, 13 did whiff, and Harvey’s season rate is verging on 30%. Matt Harvey was already good a year ago. Since then he’s only induced more grounders and cut his walk rate in half. Harvey, at this point, is in the argument for being the most valuable young pitcher in all of baseball.

Against the Braves, Harvey registered 15 swinging strikes on secondary stuff, which is outstanding. Yet he also picked up eight whiffs on his heater, which is kind of par for the Harvey course. No other starter’s fastball has led to so many swinging strikes, as Harvey can just be completely overwhelming. Instead of just using his fastball as a foundation, Harvey uses it also as a weapon, which is a rare gift. To have a swing-and-miss fastball is to have one hell of an advantage, and though fastballs tend to get slower over time, for now, at least, Harvey’s elite.

Every Friday, here, I write about the week’s wildest pitches and the week’s wildest swings. The latter are the swings at the pitches furthest from the center of the strike zone, and they’re almost always whiffs, for reasons self-evident. Those swings are evidence of batters getting tricked. They’re just about always wild swings at offspeed pitches outside or in the dirt. I thought I’d do something similar with Matt Harvey, except the opposite. I thought I’d isolate whiffs at fastballs that were the closest to the center of the strike zone. Essentially, I isolated fastballs that were grooved, but cut on and missed anyway. What’s more overpowering than a swing-and-miss fastball in the very middle of the zone? What makes for a better show of dominance? Every pitcher, of course, will occasionally get a whiff at a grooved heater. That’s just the nature of probability. But Matt Harvey possesses a special heater, and here comes a top-five list. These are the five Harvey whiffs at fastballs closest to the middle of the zone, so far in 2013:

5

  • Batter: Pedro Alvarez
  • Date: May 12
  • Location: 3.6 inches from center of zone

Harvey5Alvarez.gif.opt

harvey5alvarez

Everybody has a different strategy when it comes to first-pitch swinging. The general rule of thumb, though, is that you should swing only at pitches you think you can handle, pitches in hittable places. The first pitch of an at-bat is no time to be over-aggressive, because there’s a whole rest of the at-bat left to go. Some people go up just looking dead red, and “dead red” is a baseball term for “fastball down the middle.” If you’re swinging at a first pitch, or if you’re swinging in a hitter-friendly count, what you’d like, ideally, as a hitter, is a fastball down the middle. Alvarez swung at a fastball down the middle from Matt Harvey. He swung right through it. In a sense, the idea was good, because it was a grooved fastball. But then, how hittable is a grooved Harvey fastball?

4

  • Batter: Jordan Schafer
  • Date: June 18
  • Location: 3.1 inches from center of zone

Harvey4Schafer.gif.opt

harvey4schafer

Same principle. First pitch, this time with a runner on. Schafer is no stranger to first-pitch swinging, and while that’s gotten him in trouble in the past, there’s nothing wrong with swinging at a first-pitch fastball over the heart of the plate, since you might not see a better pitch. That’s kind of part of the problem with facing Matt Harvey. Sure, you might not see a better pitch than a fastball down the middle. But that doesn’t make that a mashable fastball. It’s still a Matt Harvey fastball. It’s just that other pitches might be even more difficult. Schafer took a big hack and cut right under the baseball.

3

  • Batter: Jordan Schafer
  • Date: June 18
  • Location: 3.1 inches from center of zone

Harvey3Schafer.gif.opt

harvey3schafer

Well wouldn’t you know it, but this happened to Jordan Schafer twice in consecutive plate appearances on Tuesday. In the first inning, Schafer swung through a different centered fastball, although this one came in an 0-and-1 count. Look at John Buck. Harvey, at this point, had the count in his favor. This was more or less the pitch that Buck wanted. This was a fastball over the middle of the plate. That’s how much confidence the Mets have in this pitch, and justifiably so. Schafer couldn’t catch up.

2

  • Batter: Ezequiel Carrera
  • Date: April 8
  • Location: 3.0 inches from center of zone

Harvey2Carrera.gif.opt

harvey2carrera

Again, Harvey’s ahead. This time, it was a 1-and-2 count, and John Buck called for a fastball just about in the middle of the strike zone. Harvey threw a fastball just about in the middle of the strike zone, and Ezequiel Carrera swung and went away. The first two strikes of this at-bat involved Carrera swinging through consecutive Harvey fastballs. Harvey and Buck had a clue that Carrera couldn’t catch up, and so Harvey went right after him with two strikes. That’s a ballsy challenge, if diminished slightly by the fact that the score was 7-1.

1

  • Batter: Carlos Quentin
  • Date: April 3
  • Location: 1.3 inches from center of zone

Harvey1Quentin.gif.opt

harvey1quentin

When you’re behind in the count, you don’t know if you’re going to see a fastball or something offspeed, which can give a good fastball something of an advantage. On the first pitch of an at-bat, you don’t necessarily want to be too aggressive, because you know you might see more and better pitches later. Here, the count was 3-and-1. Carlos Quentin is a good hitter, and he must’ve known he was probably going to see a fastball for a strike. That’s a classic fastball count, a classic hitter-friendly count, and plus the score was 8-0 so Harvey had little to lose by coming over the middle. With Quentin knowing what was coming, Harvey grooved a pitch at 93 miles per hour. Quentin swung right through it, despite everything. He seemed late, and he wound up off balance. That is, basically, a .gif of Carlos Quentin getting overpowered by Matt Harvey’s fastball. He couldn’t have asked for a better pitch in a better spot in a better count, and he couldn’t hit it. That’s not unimpressive.

Matt Harvey isn’t the only pitcher in baseball with an overpowering and overwhelming heater. He isn’t the only pitcher in baseball to rack up a ton of strikeouts, and he isn’t the only pitcher in baseball to pitch like an ace. Many pitchers get swinging strikes on fastballs over the plate, at least some of the time. But few make a habit of it quite like Harvey does, and that’s one of the reasons why Harvey’s the real deal.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

33 Responses to “Matt Harvey, Overwhelming”

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  1. chri521 says:

    Swoon… although the same of hitters here aren’t the cream of the crop.

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  2. Pat G says:

    is there a reason that nobody swung over the fastball? everyone tracks it to be a full balls width lower than where the pitch crosses

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    • Ryan says:

      I would guess it’s because in general when hitters are trying to catch up to a fastball they tend to have trouble keeping the bat head up because it’s easier to generate bat speed if gravity is helping. That’s why high fastballs are effective for pitchers that throw hard and it’s why hard throwers get more infield pop-ups.

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    • Rob says:

      I remember hearing/reading that although fastballs don’t actually rise a lot of backspin on them makes them sink less then your mind figures they should so they appear to “rise”. My guess would be that you are much more prone to swinging under a four-seamer than over it because the spin changes the trajectory in such a way that you expect it to be lower than it ends up.

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      • Nick says:

        That’s my understanding of it as well, guys like Cain and Weaver have a lot of perceived “rise” on their fastball due to the backspin leading to guys swinging too low and missing/hitting popups/weak flyballs

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  3. Hurtlockertwo says:

    If Wheeler is the real deal, teaming with Harvey will give the Mets the best 1-2 since Seaver-Koosman.

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    • za says:

      As a Mets fan, the games yesterday were a glimpse into the possible future. We’ve also gut a 1B and C in AAA who are doing quite well (Flores, d’Arnaud), an OF who was killing it in AA until he dislocated his finger sliding (Puello), and a whole bunch of arms a bit further away from the Majors with distinguishing characteristics. Sandy has a plan, Sandy likes his plan, and Sandy is sticking to his plan. I’m not worried about the future.

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      • PhillR says:

        I like Sandy’s plan a lot, and I’m hopeful that the Wilpons attention span remains elsewhere for another 3 years.

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      • Astro Villain says:

        Flores is a 2B right now and d’Arnaud isn’t killing it right now; he isn’t playing. Still, there’s a lot of hope those guys can be above average major leaguers.

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    • Bill says:

      Or, perhaps, the best 1-2 since Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher?

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      • Wobatus says:

        Paul Wilson was supposed to be the stud of that group.

        Harvey has already put up 4.9 WAR in the last calendar year. Better than any year Pulsipher or Izzy ever had.

        I’ll settle for Gooden and Fernandez or Gooden and Cone, although Cone got started a few years after Doc.

        Even before Wheeler came up the Mets had the 2nd best starter xFIP in the majors over the last 30 days. 7th best starter siera in 2013. 5th best starter siera over the last calendar year.

        Harvey, Wheeler, Gee, Marcum, Niese is a good starting 5 if Wheeler can maintain some semblance of command. Hefner as a 6th. Montero, Syndergaard, Tapia, Bowman, Lara, Mateo, Ynoa, Fulmer, Mazzoni, Degrom, Robles, Matz, Verrett in a minors stuffed with interesting arms, some of whom may end relievers, most will flame out, but the key is quantity with quality.

        On amazinavenue yesterday they called that doubleheader Merry Pitchmas. The members were having a blast.

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  4. attgig says:

    10 year contract. right now. do it. i know… pitchers…long term contracts… but Harvey is worth that risk.

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    • za says:

      10 years, 100 million? I’d take it.

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    • Bill says:

      Isringhausen, Pulsipher, and Wilson. If the pitchers are willing to offer a significant enough discount to make it worth risk, I agree completely. But, yeah, the Mets have had bad luck with pitchers in the past.

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      • J Met says:

        Izzy, Pulse, and Wilson.
        Ok.
        Izzy threw 193 innings in the minors in 1994 then was sent to the AZL at the age of 21. The next year the mets had him throw 221 innings at the age of 22.
        Pulse threw 201 innings in 1994 before being sent to the AZL at the age of 20. 20 YEARS OLD AND THROWING OVER 220 INNINGS? 221 Innings as a 21 year old the next year.
        Wilson in 1994 threw 143 innings for FSU before being drafted ( http://nolefan.org/baseball/wilson_paul.html )… he then threw another 49 innings in the minors that year after getting drafted….. then of course after a total of 192 innings for a 21 year old, the mets sent him the the AZL…..
        It was NOT the PLAYERS it was MANAGEMENT and thier “PITCHERS NEED TO LEARN TO THROW COMPLETE GAMES” mentality at that time. All 3 of them were run into the ground before pitching on a major league mound.

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        • Wobatus says:

          Plus none of them ever pitched as well for a year as Harvey has the last calendar year.

          And that’s nothing. Think cocaine did in Doc Gooden?

          Try 218 innings at age 19 and 276 innings at age 20 (1985) in the majors. He averaged 11.4 Ks per 9 his rookie year and never again topped 9. Only 2 pitchers since 1985 (Blyleven tossed 293 in 1985-Gooden at age 20 was second) have thrown more in a year than Doc’s 276: Clemens and Charlie Hough. But Clemens didn’t throw 280 until he was 24.

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        • Matt Mosher says:

          The Generation K comparison is absurd. First of all, these Mets have two frontline starters. Second, Generation K was a Mets PR hype-machine designed to sell tickets after an abysmal four previous seasons. Despite similarities in recent team performance, the Mets have not hyped either of these guys. Harvey became an overnight sensation because of his performance alone, not hype like Wilson, Pulse and Izzy had.

          Compare Strasburg and Harvey for a minute. Strasburg was hyped for two years before he ever made his debut. Now that both pitchers are in the bigs, you can easily make the case that they are near equals. In fact, I’d much rather have Harvey considering body type, health and present mechanics.

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  5. Andrew says:

    I’m in love.

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  6. enkidu says:

    Flores seems to have a bat that fits much better at 2nd than 1st and the Mets already have that guy in Murphy. Last I checked d’Arnaud has yet to see the AAA field in the Mets organization never mind helping out at Citifield. Whatever plan Sandy Alderson has, I hope it involves signing/trading for at least three position players before opening day 2014.

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    • Wobatus says:

      Flores is still 21. i think he’ll show a little more power, and in this day and age a .290/.330/.450 bat at first isn’t awful. Not that he projects that well yet. But the major league average is .267/.337/.439 at first. Given his contact rates and doubles power at 21, I think he could top that in a couple of years.

      And D’Arnaud did play this year, and seems to be healing up fine. He’ll be back soon.

      Also, Cesar Puello is at .330/.403/.604 at 22 in the Eastern League. He’s shown glimpses before but never really had a big year, and still needs plate discipline, but a 5 tool talent who made the BA top 100 a couple of years ago.

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    • Trotter76 says:

      The Mets haven’t had a payroll under $93 mil since 2000, but next year they only have $33 mil on the books (including Johan’s $5.5 mil buyout). They have plenty of money to spend finally and Sandy knows what he’s got in the pipeline and where the cupboard is dry. Choo, Ellsbury, and Pence (all 29 to 30 years old) are available and I’d like to see the Mets make a run at one of them.

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    • dovif says:

      enkidu

      you will need to check again, he had over 70 AB before hitting the DL during an at bat

      As for Flores, he is 21 and probably can play 2B 1B or 3B

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      • enkidu says:

        My bad…I did not recall D’Arnaud played a couple of weeks before getting hurt. I still believe it is a large stretch to think that either of these guys will solve the Mets offensive woes in 2014. D’Arnaud in particular has missed significant time the last two seasons and I think you need to temper your expectations of what his bat will provide when he does get to NY.

        And if Flores can handle 2nd, I think the Mets would be much better off keeping him there and either moving Murphy to a UT role or using one of them in a trade package to upgrade elsewhere.

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  7. TheRoundestHead says:

    I always thought it was “dead rat” fastball. Still, a great article Jeff.

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  8. Franco says:

    The most amazing thing is that Mets somehow scored 8 and 7 runs at some point.

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  9. mortimer says:

    While reading I thought for a sec that Carlos Quentin would find a way to get hit by the perfectly centered fastball….

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  10. 65Kyle08 says:

    West side

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  11. TheMooseOfDeath says:

    What I love about these .gifs is that John Buck barely needs to move his glove at all. Now that’s some good control.

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  12. Jay29 says:

    I bet Quentin was overthinking it and expecting a slider from Harvey. He really shouldn’t be late looking 3-1 fastball middle-middle in his (I’m guessing) 3rd at bat vs Harvey that night.

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  13. scruddet says:

    Let’s not give him too much credit, if there’s one thing the Braves do well, it’s strike out.

    …in all seriousness though, he looked sharp. I hope I don’t have to watch him strike out Braves hitters over the next ten years.

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