Early Returns on Matt Harvey are Great; the Ace is Back

By: Brian Mangan

There’s no doubt about it: the Dark Knight of Gotham, Matt Harvey, is off to a great start to the 2015 season. Harvey tossed 8 2/3 dominant innings against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night, and currently holds a 3.04 ERA so far on the young season after four starts.

When I did a forecast for Harvey in the winter, I pointed out that the first year back “can be a little bumpy for the pitcher, especially with regard to a lack of command.” (MetsBlog, Dec. 12). So far, however, Harvey’s return is everything that Mets fans could have wanted. The even better news is that under-the-hood, looking at velocity and pitch selection and everything else, it appears that these good initial results are for real.

Harvey’s Early Results

Despite turning in one sub-par start against his personal bugaboo, the Marlins, Harvey has posted an overall 3.04 ERA with 2.75 FIP this year. During that time he’s posted an eye-popping 31-3 K-BB ratio, which is good for fifth in baseball. Harvey has gone six innings or longer in every start this year, despite being held to an extremely low pitch count – he needed only 84 pitches to get through six against the Marlins. This performance so far this season, on the heels of a spring where Harvey looked healthy and posted a 1.19 ERA and 0.79 WHIP in 22.2 innings, has provided Mets fans with a reason to be optimistic about their reconstructed co-ace.

On the visual side of things, Harvey looks great as well. He dominates each game he plays, averaging 95 mph on the fastball since returning and commanding the zone with all four of his pitches.

A Deeper Look

Harvey’s early season success is completely sustainable, as all the data points to the fact that he’s returned to his top form. His first pitch strike percentage is 70.1%, which is even higher than it was in 2013 when it was 64.4%. His swinging strike percentage is 12.2%, which is in the Top 10 among all MLB starters, between Chris Sale and Max Scherzer. The contact rate against him on pitches in the strike zone is an absurdly low 81.8%, 6th in MLB, between Tyson Ross and Jon Lester. So, essentially, he’s pounding the zone with unhittable stuff – his strikeout rate is 8th in MLB.

Breaking it down by pitch, Harvey has all four of his offerings (fastball, curveball, changeup, slider) working so far, including his slider, which he is throwing progressively more in each start. After throwing his slider only seven times in the first two games combined, he’s back to throwing it about a dozen times per game:

harvey pitches(*I would ignore the separate column for sinker.)

All four pitches are generating swings-and-misses at a good rate other than the curve which, as we have seen, gets more of its share of guys caught looking. The other three offerings, the fourseam, changeup, and slider, each have swinging strike rates of 14% or higher (the changeup has a nasty 18.9% swinging strike rate).

He’s also commanding the zone well too — take a look at his zone profile for his fastball, which he keeps up and away from lefthanded hitters, compared to his slider, which is always down and away to righties:

harvey combine

It’s a long season, and anything can happen, but based on the first four games of the year it’s plain to see that Harvey is back, or almost back, to his vintage dominant self. With velocity in line with where it was in 2013, and command of four good pitches, Harvey should continue to pitch at a very high level this season. FIP and xFIP see Harvey as a 2.50 to 2.75 ERA range pitcher right now, and I tend to agree with that assessment.

Brian Mangan is an attorney who lives in New York City. Follow his Mets-related thoughts on Twitter: @brianpmangan