Two weeks back, we took an initial look at Matt Harvey’s 2016 season — particularly his velocity and his pitch movement — and said that although there was some reason to worry, it wasn’t panic time just yet.
It’s getting closer to that time.
Harvey bounced back a bit in his next start, April 27th against Cincinnati. He allowed just two runs and struck out seven over 6 innings, against one of MLB’s weakest offenses. Unfortunately, he crashed back to earth in last night’s start against an even weaker offense, the lowly Braves. Harvey allowed three runs and was knocked out in the sixth, striking out only four.
Harvey has not eclipsed 102 pitches thrown in any start this season. And there is a reason for that — after the fourth inning, he has been getting knocked around like a pinata:
This is beyond ugly. Is this just small sample size noise, or is it something worse? I would argue that it is the latter, as Harvey’s had a huge problem maintaining his velocity through games. Here is Harvey’s velocity chart per inning over his last four starts:
He begins the game averaging north of 95 mph, and ends the game barely topping 93.
Velocity is not the entire story, though, as a drop from 95 to 93 would ostensibly be manageable if the pitcher was not struggling in other departments as well. A loss of velocity coupled with fewer strikes and more pitches up in the zone is a recipe for trouble and that is exactly what we see here. But here are his pitch location charts in innings 1-3 compared to innings 5-6 in his last start:
Some of the underlying statistics are more optimistic for Harvey, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them. His FIP is 3.79, better, although noticeably worse than last year’s performance. He’s still getting hitters to swing at 33.7% of pitches out of the zone, but his swinging strike rate is down from 11.6% in 2015 to only 9.5% this year.
My guess is that Harvey is trying to reach back for some extra velocity in the later innings, but it is just not there right now. It could be an extended dead arm phase, but when you try to muscle through it and end up throwing 93 mph high strikes, you’re going to get beat up a bit.
Last night’s start was a career-worst for Harvey in terms of fastball velocity and separation in velocity between his fastball and his changeup.
This is no longer a blip, as we are 20% of the way through the season (6 starts). Batters are hitting .542/.607/.708 against him from pitch 76 onward. He’s going to have to fix that, and quick, if he wants to turn in close to as good of a 2016 season as many expected.