Is It Time To Worry About Matt Harvey?

The New York Mets entered the 2016 season with World Series aspirations. After finishing as National League Champions, and a lot closer to a World Series victory than the four games to one loss to the Kansas City Royals indicates, the stakes were raised to a point hardly ever reached for the franchise in Queens.

While the offense, with the additions of Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker, was expected to be top of the line, the pitching staff was what was supposed to carry the team all the way to its goal; a third World Series win for the franchise. The Mets have not had a disappointing start to the 2016 campaign by any means; they have gone 16-9, 2.0 games back from the rival Washington Nationals, and showing a nice +36 run differential. However, one of their front-line pitchers, Matt Harvey has gotten off to an alarming start.

Through his first five starts, he went 2-3, with a 4.76 ERA, a 6.67 K/9 rate, a 2.84 BB/9 rate, a 102 xFIP- and an 89 FIP-. In his sixth start, against the Atlanta Braves, Harvey went 5.2 innings, gave up eight hits, walked two, struck out four, and surrendered three runs en route to his fourth loss of the season. His longest outing of the season is 6.0 innings. His season high in strikeouts sits at seven. He has given up at least two earned runs in every start, win or lose. He has walked a batter in each start. He does not look like Matt Harvey.

All of these numbers are much worse than Harvey’s career averages. His career K/9 rate is 9.29, BB/9 rate is 2.04, 2.67 ERA, 70 FIP- and 80 xFIP-. He has had an All-Star, front-line starter career, up until his performance this season. The burly right-hander has been a shell of himself so far this season.

One big part of Harvey’s struggles this season is the lack of effectiveness in his two best pitches; his fastball and slider. The velocity is down in both pitches from 95.1 to 94.4, and from 89.3 to 87.9, respectively. The fastball and slider are also getting hit hard. In his career, Harvey’s fastball comes with a .233 batting average against, a 23.7 percent strikeout rate and an 88 wRC+, and his slider a .201 average, a 31.4 percent strikeout rate and a 56 wRC+. These pitches, especially his slider, have been reliable, dominant pitches throughout his career.

This year? Not so much. His fastball is still striking out a lot of batters (20.3 percent), but is getting hit to the tune of a .291 average and an 80 wRC+. The wRC+ is actually better, but more runners are getting on, which means more stressful pitches, and more work for Harvey to do on the mound. His slider has been wildly unimpressive. It boasts a minuscule (especially compared to his career averages) 8.7 percent strikeout rate, .429 batting average against, and a 226 wRC+. What was formally his out-pitch has become something that batters are absolutely teeing off on, and it is hurting his ability to be an ace, and to get through the order multiple times.

While Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz (outside of his first start) have been great this year, Matt Harvey has struggled. Jacob deGrom has struggled with his velocity, and has seen his strikeout rate drop and his walk rate rise as well, but he is pitching well enough to get through it, going 3-0 with a 1.02 ERA, and even have an above average FIP and xFIP (2.17 and 3.55, respectively). Matt Harvey, on the other hand, has not been able to work though the issues, and it can be attributed to a lot of things.

Is it the 189.1 regular season innings pitched and 26.2 postseason innings pitched, his first year back after Tommy John surgery? Is it the blot clot he suffered from in spring training? Is it a shoulder injury? An elbow? Is it something else?

We, everyone outside the Mets organization and Harvey himself, have no idea. Maybe they have no idea; Harvey did discuss his frustrations in post-game interviews after his last start. However Matt Harvey, the Mets, and their faithful fans, hope that it is figured out soon.

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