Outside of some Volvos, the odd Audi, VW, and occasional Ford, five cylinder engines are not the most common propulsion devices in the automotive world. In baseball, however, a five man corps has become the accepted standard for modern-day starting rotations. In both of these cases, if a component- either cylinder or starter, misfires consistently, then the overall performance of the unit is impaired until a solution to the issue is found.
Now baseball players being human beings and subject to, oh, “ the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” (to wax Shakespearean), it is clearly unfair of fans to have unrealistic expectations of them, one of which is to perform at all times at the top of their game. At the same time, we can many of us become spoiled by a season or so of transcendent performance and can lose sight of the fact that “development” can be an extended process at times. Such would seem to be the case with the 2016 edition of Matt Harvey. It is advisable, however, to consider his performance in the wider context of one part of an overall scheme.
An examination of the Mets’ 2016 rotation as we near the 1/3rd point of the season reveals some remarkable statistics and some fascinating parallels. To this date, the staff as a whole has shined most brightly in terms of overall control. While striking out opponents at a prodigious rate (third in the NL), the Met staff has also issued the fewest walks in the league, are tied for the fewest HBP in the league, and are tied for the fewest “meatballs” (HR’s surrendered league-wide) as well.
The parallels I note are largely subjective, of course, but interesting enough in my opinion: 1. Following a largely successful partial season debut, Matt Harvey utterly dominated opponents in his first full season with a WHIP of 0.93. After winning ROY in his first go-round, Jacob deGrom also hammered the opposition in his second season to the tune of another sub-1 WHIP (0.98). This season, both Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are in their second seasons in the bigs and both have currently compiled records with WHIPS below 1 as they have emerged as the most dominant members of the starting staff this year.
Another parallel might be drawn at this point, hopefully, for Harvey’s distressingly dismal showing. As has been noted by many, hitting a speed bump of this magnitude is not uncommon for pitchers of Harvey’s ilk-this being dominant “horses” who generally occupy the number one or two slot in their rotations. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are two Cy Young winners who both had seasons early in their careers where their ERA’s skyrocketed and they looked like anything but the aces they are remembered as.
While it may be a tad early to elevate Harvey to their level, based on his track record (such as it is), his competitiveness, and the fact that his big payday has yet to arrive, one has to suppose that given time, he will eventually find his way out of the dark forest he has wandered into. If his trials this season are his karmic redress for the hubris that led to the Met collapse in game five of last year’s World Series, we can only hope that the cosmic forces at play are merciful enough not to let it continue beyond 2016.
From a team perspective, the Mets are better prepared to deal with Harvey’s regression than virtually any team in recent memory thanks to their embarrassment of pitching riches. Aside from having reasonable replacements available if necessary (e.g. Logan Verrett, Rafael Montero, Sean Gilmartin) and another on the way (Zack Wheeler), the team’s position within the division and the fact that two thirds of the schedule remains to be played, afford team management the luxury of seeing if the erstwhile “Dark Knight” can pitch his way back from the brink.
So, will a staff featuring two dominators in Matz and Thor, a less dominant but still largely effective deGrom, a typical Colon (soaking up innings and delivering a reliably .500-ish record) and a big question mark be good enough to reach the post-season? Probably…I guess. It sure would help my confidence if the rest of the team could do something about that god-awful batting with RISP number.
At some point, I expect Matt Harvey to return to his previous level of performance, chastened, one would expect, and hopefully better prepared to deal with the occasional bump in the road as well as the press after a less-than-stellar outing.
Until then, we can continue to at least look forward to watching the continued flowering of the two youngest members of the rotation. That is, until Zack Wheeler is ready to return. Harvey’s temperament being what it is, that’s when things might get really interesting.