Matt Harvey is very good at what he does. The former No. 7 overall pick in the 2010 draft quickly silenced rumblings of a potential move to the bullpen by striking out 156 batters across 135 2/3 innings in his professional debut. He didn’t fare too much worse the following year in 20 Triple-A starts before getting a 10-game nod with the New York Mets to end the year. He dazzled in his major league debut with arguably his best professional run to that point with a sub-3.00 ERA.
He was an All-Star the following season at age 24 and finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting behind Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright and Jose Fernandez. After missing the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery, he returned last season essentially without missing a beat. He maintained his sub-3 ERA and pitched a regular season career-high 189 1/3 innings. Harvey pitched so well he was awarded with his first Opening Day start. (One that he didn’t deserve, but we’ll get to that later). That start came on Sunday night against the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals — the team he lost Game 5 of the World Series to last season after allowing two game-deciding runs in the ninth inning of what had been an eight-inning shutout to that point.
Harvey didn’t make it to the ninth inning this time. Instead, he was chased after just 5 2/3 innings allowing eight hits, three earned runs, two walks and just two strikeouts as the Royals, again, topped the Mets.
Of course this does not allude to Harvey being a bad pitcher, or that he isn’t worthy of the “ace” tag that he has been given. But Jacob deGrom — Harvey’s New York teammate — is more deserving. deGrom should have been the Opening Day starter for the Mets, he should be the team’s “ace” in a staff littered with talent, and that is not a disservice to Harvey.
The sporter of the popular, sister-manicured, flowing mane, the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year, is the New York Mets’ best pitcher for the time being. Noah Syndergaard could have a say in that by season’s end, and Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler aren’t too shabby either, but for now this rotation is deGrom’s,
In his sophomore campaign, deGrom was selected to his first All-Star game, finished seventh in the NL Cy Young Award voting and was one of only five starters to have a sub-1.00 WHIP. He finished in the top 10 in the following pitching statistics: wins above replacement, earned run average, hits per nine innings, walks per nine, strikeouts per nine, and topped out at fourth in FIP (fielding independent pitching) — essentially a better measure of ERA. A lot of that has to do with his devastating five-pitch repertoire. Here’s a look at his arsenal compared to Harvey’s across all of last season:
What makes deGrom so lethal is that he has already taken that ‘next step’ on the mound building off of his rookie season and refining his pure “stuff.” As dominating as deGrom’s fastball can be, evidenced by the 114 K, the isolated power allowed when using his changeup and slider is otherworldly. His curveball isn’t far behind and his fastball, unlike Harvey’s, is damn near unhittable. And to think, if he scrapped his sinker, his numbers would probably be that much better.
Regardless, he has subsequently improved his ERA, WHIP, K/9, H/9 and significantly improved his BB/9. His strides are so considerable that his numbers from last season side-by-side with Matt Harvey’s look like this:
|Jacob deGrom||Matt Harvey|
|All stats courtesy of both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs|
*Soft% is the percentage of balls in play that were classified as hits with soft speed
**Hard% is the percentage of balls in play that were classified as hits with hard speed
***SwStr% is the percentange of strikes that were swung at and missed
You’ll notice that deGrom — essentially in every substantial pitching stat — fares better than his counterpart. Of course you can spend time digging for some other numbers that might say otherwise, like Harvey’s fastball is still a tick faster than deGrom’s, that Harvey actually performed better than deGrom in high leverage situations, or that Harvey actually stranded a slightly higher percentage of runners on base than did deGrom, but again, this is not a piece designed to condemn Matt Harvey. Harvey would be the ace on the majority of MLB teams… it just so happens to be that the majority of MLB teams do not have Jacob deGrom at their disposal.
deGrom, the No. 2 man in the Mets’ rotation is still not scheduled to make his 2016 debut until the weekend series against the Philadelphia Phillies as he awaits the birth of his first child. A few months after he welcomes baby deGrom into the world, he could very well be welcoming a Cy Young Award into his trophy case.