Is Matt Harvey Who We Think He Is?

harvey

Howard Simmons- NY Daily News

I love watching Matt Harvey pitch. He’s a bright spot in an otherwise dull Queens baseball skyline, and one of the few reasons to come out to a New York Mets game this season.

But is New York’s newest sensation really who we think he is?

The scouting reports would say so. Harvey has a four-seam fastball that can approach 100 mph and has averaged just under 95 mph so far in 2013. He has the control to locate it just about wherever he wants no matter what side of the plate a batter is on. His two-seamer–which he rarely throws–possesses terrific late movement down in the zone. Harvey’s changeup is a perfect complement to his two-seamer, in both its break and movement:
harveyChange1
harveyFB1
harveyChange2
harveyFB2

Harvey pitched pretty well in 2012, going 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA (3.30 FIP) and a stellar 28.6% strikeout rate. Much of that promise carried him into his blazing start to the 2013 season. As of today, Harvey has a pretty unsustainable 32.6% strikeout rate and has yet to lose a ballgame. He’s allowed more than one earned run just once and has struck out at least six batters in every start–Harvey has even hit double-diget Ks twice. His FIP and ERA are just about on even keel–1.90 versus 1.28 respectively–and he’s allowing a low line drive rate of 15%, which is outstanding considering his fly ball contact is only yielding home runs at a rate of 4.7%.

However, a couple of things are sticking out–one being his almost-silly .189 BABIP. The Mets are pretty bad defensively, so you’d have to assume Harvey is riding a pretty impressive streak of contact luck–or hitters are just making bad contact because his stuff is that good.

For one, Harvey is throwing a high rate of first-pitch strikes. Batters are taking more and more pitches these days and starting behind the count is allowing pitchers like Harvey to attack them with success. Harvey is also making hitters take higher than normal cuts at pitches out of the zone–just over 36% of the time.

That figure could explain his BABIP success for the time being–though once reports of Harvey’s consistency with first-pitch strikes comes to the surface, hitters will be more likely to swing away. So for those worried about that sort of thing, plan on an elevated BABIP to arrive shortly.

The other questionable feature of Harvey’s success is his ‘pleasure’ of facing a handful of bad/underperforming teams–San Diego, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Washington, LA Dodgers, Miami and the White Sox. Four of them–Miami, Washington, LA and Chicago–are currently the bottom four in runs scored, while the other three–San Diego, Philadelphia and Minnesota–are in the bottom 12. Of those, only the Los Angeles Dodgers have managed to score more than one run.

So that means Harvey really is lucky and he’s simply not as good as advertised, right? Yes and yes–BUT considering how elite he’s been pitching, no pitcher with the numbers Harvey’s posting can ever be as good as advertised.

SIERA is showing Harvey’s ERA may rise to a bit over 2.50 and his BABIP–as mentioned–will undoubtedly rise, resulting in more opportunities for opponents to score runs. We’ll have to see how that will affect a pitcher who really hasn’t faced any sort of adversity thus far.

Even if Harvey has some regression, he’s still going to be up there with the better starters of 2013. The kid nonetheless has a bright future in the big lights of New York.