Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
I'll preface this with a reminder that Spring Training performances and stats need to be taken with a grain of salt. However, since Matt Harvey's first two starts of the Grapefruit League are all we have to go by at the moment, here it goes...
This version of Matt Harvey -- one that seems to be healthy for the first time since 2015 -- may have turned a corner.
Harvey tossed three scoreless innings on Monday as his fastball ranged from 92 to 95 MPH and touched 96 MPH -- the same velocity he topped out at during his first start last week.
More important for Harvey on Monday, though, was that he featured all three of his secondary offerings -- slider, changeup, and curveball -- while working without his best stuff and keeping the ball on the ground as he dotted the bottom of the strike zone.
And Harvey's on-field demeanor and postgame reactions, which were usually puzzled and sullen in 2017, have improved dramatically.
At this point, it's foolish to predict what Harvey will be in 2018. It seems that almost no one expects him to recapture what he was during his peak years of 2013 and 2015, with most hoping for him to become a No. 3 starter -- someone who can slot in behind Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom and be "reliable."
With what Harvey has gone through -- missing 2014 due to Tommy John surgery, pitching hurt in 2016 followed by Thoracic Outlet surgery, and pitching in 2017 while not fully recovered -- it's fair to temper expectations. But it's also fair to point out that even in 2016 and 2017, when Harvey struggled so mightily, it wasn't about a lack of velocity. It was about location. And mound presence. And confidence.
Other issues for Harvey, according to pitching coach Dave Eiland and manager Mickey Callaway, were mechanical flaws with his delivery that are being corrected. One flaw, according to Callaway, dated all the way back to August of 2015.
Now back to the velocity...
During his rookie season in 2012, when he burst on the scene and established himself as one of the best young pitchers in baseball, Harvey's average fastball velocity was 94.6 MPH. Last season, when he was almost impossibly bad while not fully recovered from Thoracic Outley surgery, Harvey's average fastball velocity was 93.9 MPH.
As is noted above, the main issue for Harvey in 2016 and 2017 wasn't velocity, it was feel and location. In 2016, he literally couldn't feel his fingers at times due to the not-yet-detected Thoracic Outlet issue. While his command isn't all the way back, it seems to be getting there.
It should also be noted that anyone citing Harvey's career won/loss (an archaic, nearly-pointless stat) record of 34-35 in some kind of effort to minimize how dominant he was -- without including the fact that he posted ERA's that were sub-2.74 in each of his first three seasons -- is doing themselves and their readers a disservice.
Now, Harvey might not ever be able to dial it up to 97 or 98 MPH with regularity again, but he doesn't need to. During Spring Training, he's already shown that he can reach 96 -- which is more than enough.
Harvey has defied the odds once -- returning after Tommy John surgery in 2015 and not having an "adjustment year" as most pitchers often do in their first year back. This season, he'll look to defy the odds once more.
The Dark Knight may not rise again, but it also isn't time to settle for Harvey being "reliable." I'm simply not ready to say that the current incarnation of Harvey can't be elite in his own right.