Matt Harvey’s High Fastball Dominance

The hard-throwing, 24-year-old Matt Harvey has quickly become a must watch when he toes the rubber for the Mets. Called up in late July of last year, Harvey and his blistering fastball (94.6 average velocity) currently sport a 31.3% strikeout rate and an ERA- of 25 — no, not 75, 25. In 2013, Harvey has made four starts, lasting at least seven innings in each appearance. He has only allowed one home run and a paltry 10 hits in 29 innings.

Harvey does feature a number of pitches, but he’s heavily reliant on his four-seam fastball, throwing that pitch 60% of the time. That ranks him fifth among all qualified pitchers in 2013. And that fastball has been deadly.

According to the PITCHf/x leader boards at Baseball Prospectus (powered by Brooks Baseball), Harvey has induced a .042 ISO (2nd best) and a .167 BA (3rd best) against when using his fastball. David Golebiewski from Baseball Analytics recently wrote about Harvey’s ability to win with the high fastball. The numbers were eye-popping. Harvey so far this year has induced whiffs on high fastballs 48.4% of the time, and he’s throwing upstairs over 50% of the time.

I was curious how this compared to others this year and in previous years. So I did some digging.

I wasn’t sure what vertical cut-off David used to code pitches as “high”, so I just used my own–pz > 3.3.

Since Harvey joined the Mets he’s induced 104 swings on high fastballs, making hitters miss 39.4% of the time. Average velocity of those fastballs? 94.8 mph. Compare that to the rest of league (2012-present) — 29.5% whiff rate and 91.5 mph average velocity — and you can see how elite Harvey’s high heat has been.

Among pitchers that have thrown at least 250 pitches in 2013, Harvey’s high-heat rate (Fastballs where pz > 3.3 / All Pitches) ranks third (17%) behind Zach McAllister (19.7%) and Shelby Miller (19.1%). Harvey also ranks fifth in terms of the velocity of his high fastballs — 95 mph.

Only 26 pitchers have featured a high fastball over 10% of the time in 2013. Among those 26, only Trevor Rosenthal has a higher whiff rate (56.3%) than Harvey (52.9%).

Pitcher SwgStr% Swg% Average Velocity All pitches % of All
Trevor Rosenthal 56.3% 48.5% 97.4 268 12.3%
Matt Harvey 52.9% 42.5% 95.0 470 17.0%
Shelby Miller 42.9% 47.7% 92.8 461 19.1%
Dillon Gee 42.9% 25.9% 87.8 423 12.8%
Madison Bumgarner 42.3% 52.0% 90.7 479 10.4%
Erik Bedard 41.7% 40.0% 90.1 262 11.5%
Wade Davis 41.2% 43.6% 90.9 324 12.0%
Zach McAllister 37.5% 32.9% 91.7 370 19.7%
Gavin Floyd 36.8% 32.2% 90.8 474 12.4%
Travis Wood 35.3% 34.7% 87.9 446 11.0%
Tim Lincecum 35.3% 34.0% 90.7 463 10.8%
Ian Kennedy 33.3% 32.1% 90.4 485 11.5%
Stephen Strasburg 27.3% 38.6% 95.8 514 11.1%
C.J. Wilson 25.0% 31.3% 90.5 542 11.8%
Clayton Kershaw 25.0% 29.9% 92.4 627 10.7%
Barry Zito 23.3% 41.1% 82.1 454 16.1%
Jason Hammel 22.7% 32.8% 92.4 456 14.7%
Rhiner Cruz 22.2% 34.6% 96.4 257 10.1%
Wade Miley 18.8% 34.0% 91.3 450 10.4%
James McDonald 17.6% 35.4% 89.7 414 11.6%
Matt Moore 17.4% 31.1% 92.6 502 14.7%
Evan Scribner 15.4% 43.3% 88.3 279 10.8%
J.A. Happ 15.4% 32.5% 89.9 474 16.9%
J.J. Hoover 13.3% 37.5% 92.0 254 15.7%
Ubaldo Jimenez 12.5% 34.8% 92.3 378 12.2%
Vance Worley 11.1% 40.3% 89.1 461 14.5%

Harvey is certainly inducing whiffs at a blistering pace with his high fastball, but how does this compare to the previous few seasons?

Between 2010 and 2012, 91 pitchers threw a high fastball over 10% of the time (min. 2,000 pitches). Of those, the highest single-season whiff rate on high fastballs was achieved by Jonathan Sanchez in 2011 (44.6%). High velocity certainly helped when it came to inducing a high whiff rate, but it wasn’t the only cause — correlation between whiff rate and velocity was .28 for this group. A table with the top 30 whiff percent seasons is below:

Pitcher Season SwgStr% Swg% Average Velocity All pitches % of All
Jonathan Sanchez 2011 44.6% 29.2% 89.9 2203 11.5%
Drew Pomeranz 2012 42.6% 40.6% 90.9 2149 13.2%
J.A. Happ 2012 40.6% 43.4% 90.6 3075 11.6%
Matt Moore 2012 40.5% 37.9% 94.3 3740 10.8%
Brandon Morrow 2010 39.5% 38.8% 93.6 3105 10.3%
Brandon Beachy 2011 39.1% 42.3% 92.1 2914 13.1%
Zach McAllister 2012 38.9% 36.9% 91.8 2579 11.9%
David Price 2010 37.5% 43.2% 94.9 4090 11.3%
Jason Hammel 2012 36.5% 38.1% 93.6 2343 10.8%
Ian Kennedy 2012 36.4% 37.7% 90.1 4175 11.9%
Cliff Lee 2011 34.5% 33.9% 90.1 4023 12.3%
Brandon Morrow 2011 34.4% 39.1% 93.7 3814 12.7%
Tim Lincecum 2012 33.6% 29.5% 90.3 4105 11.5%
Ubaldo Jimenez 2010 33.5% 36.2% 96.2 4377 10.9%
J.A. Happ 2011 33.5% 41.6% 89.8 3658 11.8%
Johnny Cueto 2010 33.3% 31.6% 93.2 3790 10.5%
Felipe Paulino 2011 32.5% 37.5% 95.3 3026 10.3%
Cory Luebke 2011 31.8% 43.1% 91.4 2837 14.4%
Jordan Zimmermann 2011 31.0% 41.0% 93.3 2989 10.5%
Wei-Yin Chen 2012 30.9% 48.0% 90.8 3817 11.1%
David Price 2011 30.8% 34.7% 94.7 4425 10.4%
Jonathan Sanchez 2010 30.6% 35.4% 90.6 3965 13.9%
Derek Holland 2011 30.5% 37.1% 94.2 4029 10.3%
Michael Pineda 2011 30.0% 43.9% 95.0 3232 10.6%
Alfredo Aceves 2011 29.9% 41.4% 91.4 2236 13.7%
Phil Hughes 2010 29.7% 48.8% 92.1 3623 13.4%
Homer Bailey 2010 29.4% 51.2% 92.8 2357 10.4%
James McDonald 2012 29.2% 35.1% 91.6 3405 12.0%
Josh Beckett 2011 29.0% 36.8% 92.4 3612 14.0%
Clayton Kershaw 2012 28.8% 42.4% 92.9 4276 10.5%

Harvey’s and Rosenthal’s current whiff rate pace certainly appear abnormal compared to even the best full seasons over the past couple of years, but the rate at which they are throwing high fastballs appears more or less in line with the top seasons of the recent past.

What does that mean? Simplistically, we certainly shouldn’t expect those whiff rates to remain above 50% (not a shocking revelation considering it is still April). However, they don’t need to be that high for either of these pitchers to continue to be as successful as they have been to this point. Both have exceptional fastballs, and while hitters may begin to make more contact on their high fastballs, the quality of that contact is likely to be muted.

Be sure to watch Harvey’s next start — tonight against the Dodgers — if you have the chance.

UPDATE: Harvey thew 103 pitches in Wednesday night’s game against the Dodgers. 45 of those were fastballs. Of those 45, 10 were high fastballs (22% of fastballs, 10% of all pitches). Batters offered at five of those fastballs (50%) and whiffed at two (40%). Here’s Harvey’s updated high heat numbers for the season:

Swg%: 43.3%

SwgStr%: 51.3%

% of All Pitches: 15.7%




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Bill works as a consultant by day. In his free time, he writes for The Hardball Times, speaks about baseball research and analytics, consults for a Major League Baseball team and appears on MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential. Along with Jeff Zimmerman, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Tumblr or Twitter @BillPetti.

8 Responses to “Matt Harvey’s High Fastball Dominance”

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  1. Matt says:

    I’m curious how Harvey’s stuff will play when he inevitably loses a few ticks on the radar gun some time down the line.

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    • Adam Mac says:

      Too early to be thinking about that. He’s a horse–physicaly, power stuff, great shape, looks like Clemens physically. Firstly, I don’t think he’s going to lose that second gear on his fastball (without injury–Josh Johnson) for a handful of seasons. For those that have heard Harvey’s name since he was a JR at a Connecticut HS in 2007, he’s always been a hard thrower.

      Inevitably he will have to pitch. But something that people aren’t mentioning about Harvey’s power fastball is what he backs it up with. Unless you’re consistently bringing 95-6+, ‘here it is, come and hit it’ doesn’t seem to continue to play. MLB hitters could time a bullet if they saw a gun shot across the plate enough times, as the addage says. What sets Harvey apart is both his power fastball ,but his hard power SL as well. Hitters have to be so aware of the velocity on his fastball, that his upper-80s SL looks much like a 4SM out of his hand before it dives down/out. He’ll probably have to set up his fastball more, but I think we’re looking at a guy who has the chance to be one of the better pitchers in the game for awhile.

      The NL East is really stacking up to be one heck of a pitching division.

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    • dovif says:

      Harvey has a plus slider, a plus change up and ML Curve to go along with a plus-plus fastball. So I don’t think he will struggle much even if his fastball drops a few mph

      The other side is that he throws his breaking stuff less then other SP, meaning there will be less impact on his elbow.

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  2. CSJ says:

    Do hitters typically swing and miss under the fastball? I noticed on a post showing a bunch of his swings and misses that everyone was swinging under it.

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    • Shlum says:

      I rarely see a batter swing over a high fastball.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      I would think give the natural motion of a swing and the plane that the ball travels, it’d be highly unlikely just from a physics standpoint to swing over a fastball. Swinging is an upward motion.

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  3. Jose' Ferrer says:

    Tommy John says he will lose that speed sooner than you thought. You called him a horse? You’re right, Mr.Ed he is now.

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