Let’s not sugarcoat it: Matt Harvey is off to a brutal start to kick off the 2019 season.
The former New York Mets ace signed a one-year $11 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels this past offseason, with the hope that he could provide useful back-end innings. While Harvey’s 2015 season, where he tossed 189 1⁄3 innings with a 2.89 ERA and was an integral part of a Mets World Series run, is far behind him, you could at least squint and see the possibility of a rebound in 2019.
After Harvey was traded to Cincinnati in May last season, Harvey saw an uptick in stuff that saw his fastball sit close to 95 mph near the end of the season. On top of an increase in fastball velocity and improvement of his breaking stuff, Harvey also started striking out more batters and putting less guys on base. As a result, Angels General Manager Billy Eppler took a flier because he liked what he saw in the 30-year-old.
Well, Harvey hasn’t been very good in any category to measure pure production. This is what he’s done through 14 1⁄3 innings through his first three starts:
- 10.05 ERA
- 7.05 FIP
- 5.7 strikeout minus walk percentage
- 21 hits
- four home runs
Harvey isn’t generating strikeouts, he’s walking too many batters and he’s allowed far too many hits, especially of the home run variety. It’d be easy to look at Matt Harvey’s 5.39 ERA from 2016-2018 (third worst among qualified starters) and proclaim him dead as a productive MLB starter.
Having watched Matt Harvey’s three starts so far, some of these numbers just didn’t see to add up. Harvey was clearly getting shellacked on particular pitches but something else wasn’t adding up. I accepted the actual results but based on my viewings, he seemed to deserving of a better fate. This led to a deep dive that resulted in some interesting discoveries.
First and foremost, let’s address this very important caveat: It’s early and plenty of things can change for Harvey, both positively or negatively. Some of the early numbers stabilize fairly quickly (strikeouts and walks) but it’s too early to assume this is who Harvey is moving forward.
Harvey’s strikeout and walk numbers should be significantly better than his actual results. A 15.7 strikeout percentage and 10 percent walk rate is downright atrocious and some underlying numbers show he should improve those figures significantly.
Harvey is running a career-low contact percentage (both in and out of the zone) by a significant margin while also generating swing-and-misses at a career-high rate (13.4 percent). Harvey is doing this despite keeping pitches in the zone near his career norms. Generally, when you’re missing more bats, you’re likely to see an uptick in strikeouts and that’s not happening right now.
Harvey’s Statcast numbers also paint a positive picture. He’s posting career-best numbers in whiff rate (28 percent) and chase contact rate (47.1 percent), two very important measures for bat-missing abilities. It’s clear that Harvey is likely due for positive regression in this department soon and based on pure stuff, that seems like a good bet.
Harvey’s fastball is sitting at 93.9 mph and two of his secondary pitches (slider and change-up) are generating whiffs at a well above-average rate. If spin rate is your kind of thing, he’s generating a higher RPM on both his fastball and slider, his two most utilized pitches. Based on stuff, strikeouts and throwing strikes, Harvey looks like he’s doing just fine but this excludes another important category: quality of contact.
This is where some of the issues come into play for Harvey. By some of the more important measures for quality of contact, Harvey is performing quite poorly.
Hitters are not only hitting the ball harder (91 mph) but they’re barreling up more baseballs (10 percent) and lifting the ball more (12.7 degree launch angle). Those are all recipes for disaster unless you believe harder hit baseballs in the air are a good thing. Harvey is allowing a lot of hard contact, which would make one believe that he’s putting pitches in poor spots.
That’s not really the case, given that Harvey’s edge percentage (pitches on the edge of the zone) is right around career norms and his meatball percentage (pitches in the middle of the zone) is a career-low 7.4 percent. This is simultaneously a positive and negative trend. It’s good that Harvey’s command appears to be fine but it’s not so good that hitters are still squaring him up anyways. This could show a case of poor sequencing by Harvey, pitch tipping or some other mechanical issue.
Those could be issues but another serious hindrance so far has been Harvey’s production with two strikes. With an 0-2 count, Harvey is running a 31.3 strikeout percentage (that’s good) but hitters are slashing .357/.438/.786 with two home runs (that’s not so good). With a 1-2 count, hitters are hitting .273/.333/.636. That’s not exactly what you want with two strikes.
On top of the issues with two strikes, Harvey is getting ripped apart by both handed hitters but more-so by left-handed hitters. In 36 plate appearances, lefties have hit .357/.500/.786 with three home runs while walking seven times. Harvey has struck out just five of those lefties. Right-handed hitters, meanwhile, are hitting .333/.353/.515 against Harvey, which looks “great” compared to lefties but that’s an alarming rate. Sure, Harvey has struck out six of those righties and walked none but that sort of production is discouraging.
This is a lot to digest so let’s sum this up a bit. Harvey’s stuff looks good and he’s due for some positive regression in both his strikeout rate and walk rate. That’s the encouraging part. The discouraging part is Harvey is getting hit harder than ever and is struggling mightily with two strikes. The latter is something that can probably be fixed but the hard-hit balls is less easy to fix.
We’re only three starts into Matt Harvey’s Angels tenure and the results are not great. There are plenty of bad trends Harvey has shown along some encouraging trends. Much like the past half-decade, Harvey remains a fascinating MLB pitcher and one worth monitoring. What he’ll do the remainder of the 2019 season remains to be seen.