What Can We Realistically Expect From Matt Harvey in 2017?
To the surprise, or maybe lack there of depending on who you ask, of many Mets fans, Marc Craig of Newsday reported that Matt Harvey’s velocity was sitting in the low-90’s during his last spring training appearance a few days ago. That doesn’t mean it was all bad news, because at least according to observers and his staff, his stuff actually looked pretty good. Terry Collins called it the “best stuff I’ve seen so far,” referring in particular to his command and delivery.
Harvey is somewhat of a baseball enigma at this point, a puzzle whose solution could be “he’s a replacement-to-league-average pitcher” or “he’s still nearly an ace.” I say nearly because in his post-Tommy John state in 2015, he was still quite good, a 73 ERA-. But it’s a bit worse than his pre-injury level of 64 ERA-, a mark that is pretty otherworldly. If he were to fully recover, that’s about as good as he’d be.
So if we’re being honest with ourselves, what can we expect from Matt Harvey in 2017? A good start would be some of the projections. Based on PECOTA, his player comps are Alex Cobb, Clay Buchholz, and Ricky Romero. Those are incredibly odd comps, mostly because Harvey already has more WAR than both Romero and Cobb, and pretty much the same as Buchholz. But the past is the past, and all we care about is predicting the future. In that case, they see Harvey as something like a league average starter in his late-20’s, which, while it may be a significant downgrade from his previous height, still fits well within the Mets’ system.
PECOTA says his median outcome is a 2.4 WARP pitcher, with the low end being 0.5 WARP and the high end being 4.2 WARP. Jeez. Alright, and what do ZiPS and Steamer have to say? ZiPS says 2.5 WAR and a 3.83 ERA, and Steamer says 2.7 WAR and a 3.79 ERA. Is it great? Of course not. But if we’re adjusting our expectations, if we’re understanding that this is a pitcher who missed two full seasons to Tommy John and thoracic outlet syndrome, then this looks a lot better.
And that’s what tough, I think, for a lot of Mets fans and admirers of Harvey. He was positively the best pitcher in baseball, next to Clayton Kershaw, for an extended period of time, and there was a hot second where, if he did stay healthy, that he could be one of the best pitchers in the franchise’s history. That’s what’s so crushing about baseball itself.
You’re first forced to understand that a career and a skill set is finite and ephemeral, and that even the very best are forced to stow away their cleats and glove eventually. But again–expectations. When I was a kid I always wanted to be a starting pitcher; I did throw a complete game shutout when I was 12, and that was my height. The expectation never reached beyond that, so it really wasn’t a massive disappointment when I morphed into oh-lowly-blogger.
The difference is, when you reach the heights that Harvey reached, you see a trajectory you want to see, and you start projecting in the same way a 12-year-old would project themselves into the big leagues. I wouldn’t say they’re equally unrealistic, but they’re not as far off as you’d think. Being an all-generation talent is nearly impossible, and even if you get there, it’s infinitely harder to reach the higher peak of sustaining that over a 10, 15, or 20-year period.
Brandon Webb comes to mind sometimes; in fact, Webb comes to mind a lot for me. There’s a few alternate universes where his career 72 ERA- gets carried through another decade and he’s a shoe-in Hall of Famer. It wasn’t to be. Webb crashed big-time in 2009, and he was gone in a flash. The other path is a Kershaw, or a Pedro Martinez, or even a Sandy Koufax, who had his own bizarre path.
The fact is–I really don’t know what we can expect. You know that, and you knew that before even reading. He could be horrible, replacement-level bad, so bad that he’s forced out of an already-great rotation, or there’s a universe where he’s essentially back to his 2015 form. The beauty of baseball is that on Opening Day, all possibilities in between are distinct possibilities. But if the velocity does slowly return after he goes through extended spring training, then maybe he returns to form. Who knows. One thing is for sure: fans in Queens would love to have the Dark Knight back, the player who thrust his team back to relevance for the first time in a decade.