Yeah, that was fun to watch last night.
This is a wonderful piece, written by a former college teammate, about what makes Harvey tick and how he struggled at UNC and through the minor league development process.
Carson Cistulli at Fangraphs and NotGraphs was kind enough to gif a Matt Harvey slider so we can enjoy it on repeat today.
The development of Harvey’s slider is really interesting. He added velocity on it as a professional beginning seriously in 2011. As an amateur he relied more heavily on his curve, but the Mets helped him turn his slider into the weapon on display Wednesday night. For more on that slider, this is an interview he and I did for a very early Mostly Mets Podcast in 2011.
Remember Matt Harvey? Yeah, you did not forget.
He landed at #17 on Keith Law’s list of top MLB talents under the age of 25.
Law is as optimistic on Harvey as I can ever remember:
Current: Harvey’s first major-league start was among the most electric I’ve ever seen; for five innings he was throwing fire and brimstone with a vicious slider and a fastball up to 98 mph, which isn’t to denigrate his curve or changeup. He wasn’t that precise package every time out, and his command still isn’t very consistent, but that’s a four-pitch mix that would work in the top two slots of most big-league rotations, right on top if he throws more and better-quality strikes with it.
Future: His delivery is much cleaner today than it was when he was a third-round pick out of high school or a struggling reliever in the Cape Cod League before his junior year of college, so there’s no physical reason he can’t improve his command and control to at least solid-average. He’s also shown the aptitude to make major adjustments to his delivery, which bodes well for his ability to refine his pitching plan and dial back a little to improve his location.
Harvey also landed on Tom Verducci’s list of pitchers at increased risk of injury. Apparently, the old “Verducci Rule” is now called the Year-After-Effect. Here’s the really important thing to understand about the Verducci effect: it’s total nonsense. It just does not exist. Matt Cerrone did good work reaching out to Paul dePodesta, who more or less confirmed (again) that the Mets would not have any innings limits on Matt Harvey in 2013.
Deadspin did a thorough review of the literature here. Theories are good. Verducci’s theory was interesting. It has failed subsequent rigorous tests. He should stop writing about it, and everyone else should stop treating it as thought it has any predictive power of any kind.
My first post of 2013, will be basically my final look back at 2012. Yeah, I’ll finally get around to finishing my review of my 2012 Top 41 prospects. This is 1 through 5 and names you know. Next steps? The 2013 list. Oh yeah. Time to get back to work.
Oh, man, the second to last entry in this series was back in October on guys I had ranked 6-10. Then, apparently I got distracted. As far as the Top Prospect review pieces, part six, on players #11-15 is here, part five, on players 16-20 is here, part four, on players 21-25 is here, part three, on players 26-30 is here, part two on players 31-35 is here, part one, on players #36-41 is here.
The link in the player’s name leads back to last year’s scouting report.
#1 – RHP Matt Harvey
What I Thought: He was the kind of pitcher who could pitch at the top of the rotation of a playoff team. He was armed plus to plus-plus fastball, a slider that had made a ton of progress in his brief professional career, a curveball that could be plus, and a changeup that had become at worst usable. I predicted an MLB debut of August, 2012. Harvey debuted for the Mets on July 26.
Reality: Pretty much all of it. Actually, he got off to a rough start in Buffalo, but settled in, and by July, was pretty clearly the best option for the big league team (sorry, Miguel Batista). Actually, Harvey was a better pitcher in the big leagues than he had been in AAA Buffalo as his strikeout rate rose from 23.7% of opponents all the way up to 28.6% of big leaguers. That’s extremely unusual. Based on his AAA starts that I saw online, it certainly appeared as though he was throwing harder, more consistently in the big leagues than he did for the Bisons. It was not just his fastball either, he was throwing his slider harder in the big leagues. Want another oddity? His strike percentage ticked upward from 62% in AAA to 63% in the big leagues against better, more disciplined hitters. Harvey’s MLB ERA – 2.73, was significantly better than his FIP of 3.30, in large part due to the fact that he did not give up many hits on balls in play – a .262 BABIP. Expect some BABIP regression, which will in turn drive his ERA up. He could counteract that be lowering his walk rate, which at 10..6% was a little high for a true pitching star.
On the Next Top 41? Nope, he pitched enough innings to graduate.
#2 – RHP Jeurys Familia
What I Thought: I loved his fastball, the movement on his breaking ball, his size, his improved delivery in 2011, the fact that he had improved his control and that he had conquered double-A.
Reality: Familia just did not locate well enough. His release point was inconsistent.
Stock: Usually, when a guy gets to the big leagues, it’s up. However, in Familia’s case, it’s down a little. The problems that he had throwing strikes and the fact that his changeup is still crude, suggest to me that he will be destined for the bullpen.
On the Next Top 41? Yeah.
#3 – RHP Zack Wheeler
What I Thought: He had big-time stuff, with a plus fastball and the potential for two above average breaking balls. He just needed time.
Reality: He had a very, very good 2012, blowing through double-A on the way to triple-A at the end of the year. He missed bats, lots of them. The only hiccup statistically was that his walk rate rose, a symptom of the fact that his command wavered. His command (and a few months in lovely Las Vegas) could be the only thing keeping from the top of a big league rotation.
On the Next Top 41? Yeah, like top two.
#4 – CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis
What I Thought: He would spend most of the second half in Queens and his secondary skills and ability to cover center would make him a valuable contributor.
Reality: I had some of that right. Andres Torres hurt himself on Opening Day, so Nieuwenhuis spend one day in April with the Buffalo Bisons before he was called up to the big leagues. The 25-year old played an ok centerfield (-1.2 UZR and -2 DRS, for what that’s worth), but his secondary skills disappeared and the strikeouts ate his batting average. He fanned in 31% of his MLB plate appearances. Moreover, his extra-base hit rate dropped from 11.3 in AAA in 2011 to just 6.3 in 2012 while his walk rate plummeted from 14.5 in AAA in 2011 to 8% in the big leagues in 2012. He did not hit lefties at all (.180/.286/.230 in 73 PA) while doing ok against righties (.271/.324/.416 in 241 PA).
Stock: Man, I almost always say up when a guy makes his MLB debut, but I expected better from Nieuwenhuis. Regardless, he should get another chance to prove he belongs in the big leagues in 2013.
On the Next Top 41? No. Graduated.
#5 – Brandon Nimmo
What I Thought: The 2011 first rounder had plus tool in his speed, and star potential in centerfield if he developed to his maximum potential.
Reality: Nimmo took the first step with a very nice season for short-season Brooklyn in the New York-Penn League. The 19-year old finished fifth in doubles (20), third in extra-base hits (28), third in strikeouts (78) and second in walks (46) in his 69 games played for Brooklyn as part of a .248/.372/.406 line. That adds up to 24% strikeout rate, an 8.7% extra-base hit rate, and a .158 ISO to go along with a 14.3% walk rate. The in-game power and the patience at such a young age are very, very exciting. However, some caution is in order. He’s a plus runner now. If he gets bigger and stronger he might no longer boast such speed. In 2012, he was just 1-for-6 stealing bases. The Mets are pleased with his development in centerfield, but were he to become much slower, he would be forced to a corner, where of course, the offensive requirements for impact bats rise. I do want to point out that while he ripped righties at a .279/.410/.465 rate overall in 112 PA, hie hit .191/.296/.298 against lefties in 109 PA. Whether or not he learns to hit lefties is just one more thing to watch in his development in the coming years.
On the Next Top 41? Yup – top 5.
In case you missed, oh the last two months of the Mets’ season, you missed out on the fact that Matt Harvey is excellent and one of the big reasons for optimism about the Mets’ future. And just a few months ago, he was a top pitching prospect in Buffalo. In light of that last fact, John Manuel at Baseball America has named him the AAA International League’s top prospect. It seems like a funny award for a guy who has already had big league success and pitched enough that he’s no longer rookie eligible in 2013, but that’s the way these lists go.
Manuel placed RHP Jeurys Familia on his list at #14 in the IL.
His comments on Familia’s stuff ring true:
He can work at 94-95 mph and touch 97 with his fastball, but he doesn’t command it despite a compact arm action. More thrower than pitcher, he falls behind in the count often enough to get punished, even by Triple-A hitters.
His short, hard slider is a plus pitch at times and his sinking changeup has its moments, but Familia trusts neither pitch because of their inconsistency.
Manuel is chatting at 3 pm as well.
Last night, Matt Harvey was one of the few, if not the only bright spot, in the Mets rather dreary 2-0 loss to the Washington Nationals.
The 23-year old’s line: 5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 10 K, 1 HR. He left the bases loaded for Robert Carson in the sixth who induced two pop-outs and a flyout to strand Harvey’s three runners. Now nine starts into his Major League career, Harvey is second on the team, among all pitchers with 50 innings, with a 2.92 ERA, trailing only R.A. Dickey and his 2.68 ERA. He’s striking out 11 batters per nine innings.
I will happily confess I did not expect him to be this good, this soon. Apparently, I’m not the only one. This is Mets’ manager Terry Collins recounting a series of conversations with Wally Backman, who has seen every single one of Harvey’s starts this year, “When Wally says, ‘I never saw that. I never saw kind of stuff,’ it tells you how he can raise his game….” said Collins (as quoted by Adam Rubin at ESPNNY). So, the stuff is better. How’s it playing?
So, lets go to the numbers to compare Harvey’s AAA performance to his MLB debut.
So, statistically, he’s been largely the same pitcher in the big leagues as he was in AAA. However, his strikeout rate has moved up from 24% in AAA to 28% in the big leagues, and he’s thrown a smidge more strikes from 62% to 63%. All the same, he’s walking the same number of batters 10%, giving up the same number of homers (1.8% to 1.9%). His hit rate against has stayed constant.
The thing is that he’s better, because he’s getting the same results against the best competition in the world.
Splicing together Ted’s interviews with Harvey from the last two years.
Matt Harvey’s Major League debut was not just a fun night for the Mets. Instead, his 11-strikeout two-hit outing turned into something historic. He became the first Mets pitcher to every strikeout 11 in his big league debut. He became the first pitcher in the “modern era” to strike out 11 and pick up two hits in his big league debut.
How did he do it? He was throwing hard. After regularly sitting 93-95 at AAA Buffalo, he averaged at the high end of that range – 94.9 last night with his four-seam fastball, sitting 92.5-96 and touching 98.
His slider averaged 85 mph, and was as high as 90. This is a pitch has some a long, long way in the last 12 months. It’s more or less a new offering for him, and it’s very good.
His curveball was in the low-mid 80s with bite. Pitch-fx shows the slider and the curve with the same horizontal movement, but had more depth and a slower speed. They are two distinct pitches.
There were notes of caution in Harvey’s performance: he threw just five changeups. He did much of his damage on fastballs up.
Analytically, I find myself with little to say. It was fun. His performance was great. He made those who thought he wasn’t ready for the big leagues look foolish. Now, he just has to do it again. And again.
So, Matt Harvey is making his MLB debut tonight. Enjoy.
What you’ll see: good fastball velocity, and nasty bite on both a curve and slider with an inconsistent changeup. At times the change has been good recently, at times flat. His fastball command has come and gone in his last few starts.
He’ll have good nights and tough ones.
Fun night for the Mets.