Matt Harvey has filled Mets fans with joy and excitement since the front office drafted him with the 7th overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft. Harvey, in his first stint in the big leagues, lived up to the hype he was so rightfully surrounded with from the beginning of his professional career. In 10 starts with the Mets, the Connecticut native posted a 2.72 ERA in just under 60 innings pitched. The following year, Harvey had an even better season. His first full season in Citi Field, Harvey, who represented the Metropolitans at the All-Star game, posted a 157 ERA+, while leading the league in FIP (2.01) as well as HR/9 (0.4).
In the same year that Dr. Frank Jobe died, the man that first attempted Tommy John surgery, 16 pitchers and one catcher had to undergo the procedure and lose most of, or in some cases their whole 2014 season, to recovering from the surgery. One of those victims was Matt Harvey. With such a bright future ahead of him, Harvey saw that future darken when he received the news of his torn ulnar collateral ligament.
Yeah, many players have had the ligament surgically repaired and have gone on to have had very successful careers. Most notably Hall of Famer John Smoltz, the only pitcher in the halls of Cooperstown to have undergone the procedure and be inducted into baseball’s most exclusive club.
But, a determined Harvey set his sights on a strong return in 2015. And boy is he having a great return season. A workhorse for the Mets, number 33 takes his orange pinstripes to the mound every fifth day and pitches more than well enough to keep them in the game for a win. His 2.60 ERA and 166.1 innings speak to quality of Harvey’s performance on the field for the first place Mets.
Last week, Harvey’s agent Scott Boras, announced that Harvey would have an innings limit on the season of 180 by instruction of Dr. James Andrews, the specialist who performed the surgery on Harvey’s right elbow. With 166.1 inning under his belt already this season, the Mets wanted Harvey to pitch in the postseason, but knew that even skipping a couple of starts wouldn’t do much. Harvey, who declined to comment on the situation, announced on the Players Tribune that he was going to pitch in the Mets’ first postseason since 2006.
But could all of this has been avoided? Yes. In my opinion, the innings limit on players recovering from the surgery isn’t useless, or wrong, but not as efficient as it could be. The “limit” on pitchers in their return season is based upon not exceeding their career high in innings pitched in a season to prevent more strain on their arm than necessary but, it should go by their career high in pitches thrown. Innings pitched are not what puts strain on the arm, it’s the pitches thrown in those innings that puts strain on the arm.
Obviously sometimes innings pitched and pitches thrown correspond but what if Harvey suddenly channels his inner Greg Maddux and starts throwing 80-90 pitch complete games? Are you going to shut him down then even though its only 80-90 pitches? Of course, not. You wouldn’t shut him down when he’s the most efficient pitcher due to fear that he’ll exceed his innings limit when he’s thrown 500 pitches less than his career high. It would help the ream if Harvey was allowed to go eight innings a game with 95 pitches than five innings a game with 60 pitches.
By the current standard Harvey, who averages 6.64 innings per start this year, has about two starts left in his arm this season. Harvey threw 2,742 pitches in 2013, the highest season total of his career. His pitch count totals 2,364 on the season giving him 378 pitches to go instead of two starts. Harvey averages 98.4 pitches per start this season. With those 378 pitches left, Harvey could make about four more starts for the Mets without disrupting the “limit.”
Harvey is the kind of horse that makes a post season team a serious contender with his ability to pitch more than quality innings with a power arm. It would be a tough call for the Mets to shut him down in the post season. When you have a rotation as good as the Mets’ with young power arms and have the team that can compete in the post season, you do not sit Matt Harvey.