Matt Harvey Needs to Work Out His Problems in the Minor Leagues

Today is May 25th, it is no longer early in the year. Matt Harvey has a 6.08 ERA and leads the major leagues in hits allowed. Like everything else with Harvey, his struggles this year have been high-profile, dramatic, and polarizing. 

I am one of the rare few Mets fans who like Harvey, but who have had my eyes open this entire time to his problems this year. On April 22nd, I warned fans that something was a little off about Harvey, writing “A Few Warning Signs for Matt Harvey.” On May 4th, as more evidence mounted, I wrote “Matt Harvey’s Troubles Worsen.

Harvey was shellacked by the Washington Nationals last night, allowing five runs over five ineffective innings, striking out just one. Harvey had an ineffective 4.50 ERA while facing weak opposition (PHI, CLE, ATL, CIN, ATL among others) earlier in the year, but has posted an absolutely putrid 10.80 ERA against real offenses (at Rockies, vs. Nationals, at Nationals).

All the same thing that we mentioned on May 4th are true today. Harvey is losing velocity as the game progresses.

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He’s also leaving his fastball up in the zone as the game gets later:

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Before we talk about what to do, we need to debunk a few things I’ve seen people saying.

  • Why was Harvey fine in the Spring, then?

It is true that people were raving about Harvey’s “stuff” in the Spring, and I was excited about it too. But he pitched only 12 innings in the Spring — hardly enough to draw any conclusions — and had a 7.50 ERA with an equal number of strikeouts and walks when he did.

  • Strasburg struggled in 2015 after Tommy John, this is the same thing.

The 2015 season was Strasburg’s 3rd year after Tommy John, not his 2nd. Even so, Strasburg was injured and Harvey is not.

Even if Strasburg was not injured, his first nine starts in 2015 were much better than Harvey’s first ten starts in 2016. Strasburg had a better K/9 rate (9.2 to 7.5) and FIP (3.65 to 4.38) than Harvey did over that stretch.

  • Harvey is still throwing hard, he’ll be fine.

This one I actually won’t debunk, because it is true, it’sj ust not the whole story. Despite the loss of velocity and problems with location, it is an indisputable fact that Matt Harvey still has the stuff to pitch in the major leagues. Many pitchers have had long, successful careers with fastballs that never came near his 5th inning average of 94.7 mph.

Nonetheless, pitching is an art form, and Harvey has lost it right now. He will definitely get it back, but the question is how and when?

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I advocated for Harvey to be sent to the minor leagues or given a “DL stint” after his last start against the Nationals at Citi Field. If they had done that, they might have had a chance of winning last night’s game and Harvey would be one start closer to returning.

The Mets have had a tradition — some of it more recent than others (Trachsel, d’Arnaud) — with sending players to the minor leagues to work things out. Getting Harvey out of New York and letting him dominate some hitters in a quieter environment is the best possible thing for him.

He’s not helping the team right now, and the worst place to try to work out yor issues (if they are mental) is on the mound in a pennant race. If you’re a pitcher who cares about his team and wants to win, like Harvey undoubtedly is, you’re not working on yourself when you are out there battling. Harvey wanted nothing more than to beat the Nationals last night; not to straighten out his own issues. Those two desires are one and the same, but it doesn’t feel like that while you are out there scuffling.

The time for excuses is past. Harvey’s been bad on four days of rest (5.56 ERA), five days of rest (7.58 ERA), and six days of rest (4.63ERA). Harvey has been so ineffective that he has only thrown an average of 88 pitches over his last three starts, and has not eclipsed 102 pitches or 6 innings in any start this year. He’s been so bad he’s not even been able to work on his endurance. Sean Gilmartin is probably a major league caliber starter, let’s give him two starts and see if we can’t get everyone back on track.

The Mets have not helped Harvey avoid turning this whole thing into a circus atmosphere, but it’s not too late for them to help him now. Sending Harvey to Binghamton is not a punishment. It’s a requirement. And it is overdue.