Matt Harvey’s Excellent Debut and the Next Step

Matt Harvey’s first MLB season is over. In 59.1 innings, the 23-year-old gave the Mets everything they could hope for and more from a top-tier pitching prospect. His seven-inning, one-run performance Wednesday against the Phillies dropped his ERA to 2.73, paired with a solid 3.30 FIP. His seven strikeouts marked the sixth time he reached that mark in 10 starts; only Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer struck out more than Harvey’s 10.62 batters per nine innings among starters with 50 innings pitched.

His final start showcased everything that defined his season — the big fastball — hitting 97 at times — the breaking pitches to keep hitters off balance, the strikeouts, and the occasional lapses in control.

The big fastball is the alpha and the omega for Harvey, at least at this point in his development. He throws it just over 66 percent of the time and it still may be his best out pitch. Wednesday against Philadelphia, it generated nine of his 12 swinging strikes, most coming up in the strike zone:

When David Laurila interviewed Harvey back in April, Harvey deflected Laurila’s attempt to discuss the merits of working up in the zone as Trevor Bauer has alluded to on multiple occasions. Harvey said those merits come “if you’re using your power stuff,” instead choosing to focus on his efforts to work down and induce ground balls when necessary.

A fine proposition, to be sure, but Harvey’s power stuff is what has him succeeding in the first place. Those nine swinging strikes against the Phillies came on 84 fastballs, a 10.7 percent rate, just a slight tick above his 10.3% season rate. And that’s because he’s working with true power stuff: at 94.7 MPH, his average fastball velocity trails just Garrett Richards, Jeff Samardzija, David Price and Steven Strasburg among starters with at least 50 innings on the season.

Some pitchers — especially the young ones — see their big velocity readings start to slip after the first couple of innings. Harvey had managed to sustain his velocity through at least two trips through the order on a regular basis:

(Width indicates number of pitches thrown)

The problem, though, comes in the sixth, where Harvey dips to 94.0 MPH — still elite starter velocity, but every tick off the fastball makes each of those elevated offerings more dangerous. Harvey simply has seen too many deep counts — he averages at least 15 and as many as 19 pitches per inning throughout the first four, and that leaves him either gassed or up around 100 pitches by the time the sixth or seventh inning rolls around. Harvey’s biggest issue on a statistical level this season is inefficiency — he needed 10 starts to get to those 59.1 innings.

It’s a good problem to have, to be sure. But if Harvey is going to step up and be the Mets’ ace soon, he’ll have to chip away at the pitch count. Harvey walked 3.9 batters per nine innings and slogged through a whopping 75 three-ball counts in his 10 outings, the barrier allowing him through to the seventh inning just three times.

Harvey’s control is only particularly poor with his curveball, his least used pitch, and one rarely deployed in deep counts — over half have gone for balls. His fastball, changeup and slider all went for strikes at least 60 percent of the time, approaching or eclipsing the league average. The problem is falling into these deep counts in the first place.

Sometimes, Harvey just makes plate discipline too easy on the hitters:

The larger zone in this chart represents when it becomes obvious out of the pitcher’s hand the pitch will be a ball — six inches out of the zone above or to the sides, and a foot below the zone. In Harvey’s case, 90 percent of pitches outside this area resulted in balls (or hit by pitches). Things happen, of course, but typically once these pitches leave the hand you can feel safe notching a ball on the scoreboard.

Of the 648 fastballs Harvey threw, 97 (or 15 percent) were easily discernible balls. It doesn’t tend to matter what count he’s in or how many pitches he’s thrown in the at-bat — once every seven or eight fastballs, Harvey is liable to uncork one well out of the zone.

Harvey doesn’t even necessarily have to fire more pitches inside the strike zone. A key and perhaps underrated part of pitching is the ability to pitch around the zone, in places that can produce strikes but don’t risk serving up easy contact. These pitches are the drivers behind those two and three ball counts, where hitters expect the fastball and foul it off even more often (30 percent as opposed to 25 percent), only exacerbating the pitch count issue.

For a 22-year-old, these are but minor quibbles. Harvey’s results in his first trip around the majors were phenomenal for any rookie, much less one of his youth. His power fastball gives him a weapon any major league hitter will have trouble dealing with. Whether he steps into the ace role the Mets hope from him depends on his ability to rein that fastball in and use it (along with his arsenal of breaking pitches) to pitch deep into ballgames as he develops in 2013 and beyond.

PITCHf/x data from BrooksBaseball.net



Print This Post



Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
philly
Guest
philly
4 years 9 days ago

It would be great to be able to put that 15% of fastballs outside the wide zone into context. What’s the league average? Are there differences by velocity, ie do power pitchers tend to miss more or perhaps even less because they can get away with being in the zone more.

diegosanchez
Guest
diegosanchez
4 years 9 days ago

very good article sans the weekswhiff.gif that no longer exists

Ian G.
Guest
Ian G.
4 years 9 days ago

Thank you for this article. I needed a dose of optimism for the future after the worst game (and series) of the year for the Mets.

Jesse
Guest
Jesse
4 years 9 days ago

that game definitely brought flashbacks of glavine’s last start. ugh. Here’s to next year.

LongTimeFan
Guest
LongTimeFan
4 years 9 days ago

To Jack Moore:

Harvey is 23, not 22. His B-day is in March, born 1989. This website is all about stats and related conclusions, so how does a mistake such as this slip through double and triple checking?

Previously, I informed this website, via email, that Matt Harvey’s listed weight was well off what Fangraphs posted – another lapse in double and triple checking. That mistake has NOT been corrected, a 15 pound mistake. One look at Matt Harvey at 6’4″, makes it crystal clear he’s too built for 210 pounds. How much effort does it take to look up a player’s birth date and weight on MLB/Mets official website?

These mistakes call into question the accuracy of other stats and related analysis. It’s extremely important you guys get the mere basics correct.

Hutch
Guest
Hutch
4 years 9 days ago

You must be a joy in real life.

jcxy
Guest
jcxy
4 years 8 days ago

Commentators are right to vote you down, for two reasons.

First, you should consider that there is a certain wink/wink of athlete height and weight that exists throughout baseball and in all sports. This is a time honoured tradition, in part, because the ball players of yesteryear would typically play into weight over the course of a season. It’s different now, for sure, but probably not as much as you’d think. Height/weigh-in day is described in hilarious detail in “Bullpen Gospels” (great book). The fact is, especially for players who started the year in the minors, accurate height and weight are simply not the static precise measurements one might find in a video game.

Second, let’s say fangraphs uses media guides as their source, as you suggest–are they much more trustworthy? NBA ones are notorious for their comical under- or over- estimates on some heights and weights (as in, the weights of the Bigs can routinely be 50 lbs light (see: Marshall, Donyell) and guys like Iverson’s height/weight must have been taken with four pairs of socks and while soaking wet). And again, these aren’t precise measurements updated daily, weekly, or monthly. 15 lbs is well within the margin of error for any athlete, even for elite performers (like Josh Beckett).

But more importantly, the lack of accuracy on height and weight on an article about fastball usage should not lead you to a conclusion that other stats cannot be trusted. Simply, it’s improper logic.

I will say, you’re right about the age but given the way that MLB computes it’s “Age X” seasons, it’s quite understandable that such an error could be missed by an author and proofreader.

Ned
Guest
Ned
4 years 6 days ago

I cannot wait to party with this ^^ guy! I’m watching the Office right now, and I could’ve sworn Dwight Schrute had invaded Fangraphs. Hey LTF, did I spell everything correctly?

supershredder
Guest
supershredder
4 years 6 days ago

So are you his mom or his wife? Or let me guess – Harvey’s grandmum?

Dongcopter
Guest
Dongcopter
4 years 9 days ago

You are a fucking loser. Just sayin’. It’s extremely important you take a long walk off a short pier.

LongTimeFan
Guest
LongTimeFan
4 years 9 days ago

Dongcopter,

If you’re referring to me, you must then have an aversion to accuracy of facts. Simple facts gotten wrong on a website devoted to facts is a problem.

Matt
Guest
Matt
4 years 9 days ago

No issue at all with the message you’ve delivered, LongTimeFan, and I gave you a +1 here. I know I have grown tired with CBS Sportsline’s seeming inability to get players’ ages and height/weight data listed correctly. Those are pieces of data that should not be hard to report accurately.

That said, the tone in your original response was needlessly harsh. I suspect that’s the reason people are giving you the negatives.

LongTimeFan
Guest
LongTimeFan
4 years 9 days ago

Now in terms of analyzing Harvey, the analysis is purely in physical terms, none about mental makeup and his approach to the game and expectation of self.

His mental makeup is off the charts good, and full of accountability, self-awareness, hunger to learn, and stated desire for greatness. Game in and out, he’s the first to parse every detail, critique himself in what he did wrong, be it high pitch count problem and related fallout, and every other imperfection in each start. He’s driven to excel the way few are, and that should be part of the Matt Harvey analysis here.

Also, his drop in avg fastball velocity later in game is inconsequential despite Mr. Moore’s view to the contrary. Harvey can dial it up at any time, such as he did last night when needed in his last inning, throwing in the upper 90’s when situation called for it. Good pitching is adapting to situations, not throwing 100 mph because one can. There’s no reason to throw upper 90’s all game – the good ones know they can but don’t need to for success. The keyword here is pitching, not throwing, and at 23, Harvey gets it and is working hard to develop and refine his game with a maturity beyond his years.

joey pittman
Guest
joey pittman
4 years 7 days ago

long time fan is absolutely correct

fangraphs is notorious for this and it detracts from the validity of the points made in the articles. It’s bad enough that we have to put up with Dave Cameron spewing his personal vendetta against Jesus Mpntero on a regular basis, why this site allows inaccurate biases and pawns them off as expert analysis is criminal

Ned
Guest
Ned
4 years 6 days ago

You two crazies need to go get a room!

wpDiscuz