(Bumped from FanPosts. --Eric)
Matt Harvey's first five starts for the Mets have been fascinating to watch. At times, his stuff seems unhittable and batters seem completely lost - A Mets fan's dream. At times he seems like he's out of control, unable to hit the strike zone at all (I exaggerate here slightly). But at all times his pitches themselves, his stuff, have seemed electric.
It's clear, of course, that Harvey is far from a finished product; his development is not complete and the Mets think he'll to develop over the course of this season and the offseason into the great (i.e., #1-#3) pitcher they expect him to be. But what does he really need to work on? It might not be what you think.
To figure this out, let's take a look at Matt Harvey's 468 Major League pitches through PITCHf/x to see what he has really shown so far. For those who aren't aware, PITCHf/x is a series of cameras in every major league park that track the path of every pitch thrown by every pitcher in every major league game during the season. This tracking data is free for anyone to view (and if you're familiar with MLB Gameday, it's used to produce the pitch trails in that) and allows us to truly see how a pitcher is changing from start to start.
PITCHf/x is particularly interesting on a young pitcher like Harvey.
Vertical Movement: the amount of inches the ball drops/"rises" as compared to how we would expect gravity to make a pitch drop. So a Fastball with Positive 10 Vertical Movement "RISES" 10 inches more than it should if gravity was the only force acting on it and a curveball with -10 Vertical Movement drops 10 inches more than a pitch thrown that is just acted on by gravity.
Horizontal Movement: The Graph is from the view of a catcher or umpire behind home plate. So a pitch that's on the left side of the graph (and has "negative horizontal movement") moves in on righties and away from lefties. A pitch that's on the right side of the graph moves in on lefites and away from righties.
Legend for this Graph and All Subsequent Graphs:
4-Seam Fastballs = Red Dots
2-Seam Fastballs = Orange Dots
Change Ups = Dark Yellow Dots
Sliders = Blue Dots
Curveballs = Purple Dots
*Note: The above graph doesn't include Harvey's last start, but nothing has changed in this regard.
Matt Harvey throws five pitches:
1. A Four-Seam Fastball
2. A Two-Seam Fastball
3. A Change-up
4. A Slider
5. A Curveball
A key to all of Harvey's pitches is their velocity; none of his pitches have the movement that would thrill you on their own. This is not to say Harvey can't throw a pitch with nasty movement; some of Harvey's individual pitches have been nasty, but these appear to be outliers. Other nasty pitches seem to look "nastier" than they actually are "movement-wise" because of a combination of the velocity of the pitch, the location of the pitch, and the lousy nature of SNY cameras.
For Instance, take Harvey's curve and slider. If we just looked at the average movement of those pitches, we wouldn't think either pitch is anything special. The slider has movement that is arguably cutter-ish (a "slutter", as I like to call it), though it's clearly a slider both in movement and usage. The curveball can be slurve-ish or it can have a nice drop, but on average it's closer to slurve-ish than the other way around. The point is this: Movement alone isn't what makes these pitches look great, but rather it's the fact that they come in at batters at plus velocity.
One final note before we move on: Harvey's curveball and slider kind of meld together at times. Harvey has thrown a few pitches with slider movement but curve velocity and a few curves with slider velocity (the former would usually be considered less good; the latter would be awesome). It's kind of hard to know what to call these.
Harvey's Pitch Usage:
Harvey, like most pitchers in the majors, uses different pitches depending upon whether the opposing batter is left- or right-handed. Against left-handed batters, Harvey relies upon his two-seam fastball as his primary pitch while mixing in the four-seamer, curveball, and change-up. Against right-handed batters, Harvey uses the four-seam fastball as his primary pitch, while also using both the two-seamer and the slider.
Harvey's change-up is never thrown against right-handed batters (which makes sense) and his curve is also rarely thrown against them. Similarly, the slider is rare for Harvey against lefties, while the curve is common.
But Harvey's results against left- and right-handed batters couldn't be more different. In fact, the results are very, very surprising. Here are Harvey's minor and major league splits this year:
Harvey (AAA) against Righties: 58.2 IP, 42/28 K/BB, 4.45 ERA
Harvey (AAA) against Lefties: 51.1 IP, 70/20 K/BB, 2.81 ERA
Harvey (NL) against Righties: 14.2 IP: 15/7 K/BB, 1 HBP
Harvey (NL) against Lefties: 15.1 IP; 19/6 K/BB
Yes, Harvey, the guy whose worst pitch is supposedly his change-up, an ANTI-LEFTY pitch, seems to have more issues with RIGHT-HANDED batters than left-handed batters. What's going on here? Lets' take a closer look at his performance against each type of batter:
Harvey utilizes four pitches against left-handed batters: His two-seamer, his four-seamer, his curveball, and his change-up (the slider is rarely used):
Figure 2: Harvey's Pitches against left-handed batters. The rectangle in the center of each graph represents the strike zone. As with Figure 1, the graphs are from a catcher's point-of-view --> The left side of the graph is where a right-handed batter would stand, the right side where a left-handed batter would stand.
Harvey's two-seamer is the primary pitch for Harvey against lefties, and appears to always be aimed on the outside part of the plate. This seems like a smart use of the pitch — its additional tailing action makes it break away from left-handed batters, after all. And when Harvey has missed inside/inside-middle (rarely), well, two of the few two-seam fastballs to find the inside/center part of the plate were pounded for home runs.
Nevertheless, the two-seam fastball is really, really effective, having a whiff rate of nearly 30% and a swinging-strike rate of 15.12% so far. For reference, a standard fastball has a swinging-strike rate of around 4-6%. Small Sample Size Warning here, but that's amazing for a fastball. The pitch isn't a ground ball pitch (it doesn't have the sink for it, and it shows) but it works really well.
If Harvey's two-seam fastball is impressive, his four-seam fastball against lefties is nuts. Used as a secondary pitch all around the strike zone and up, in the small sample we have (53 pitches), left-handers have been completely and utterly baffled by it. Lefties have only put the ball into play four times, each time for an out, and have whiffed 12 out of the 26 times they have swung at the pitch. That's a 46% Whiff rate and 23% Swinging Strike Rate! Major small sample size caveats apply here (those numbers can't be sustainable, right?), but that's four-to-five times the whiff rate of your normal fastball.
Harvey's third pitch and breaking ball of choice against left-handed batters is his curveball. Again, in these five starts, Harvey has demonstrated strong ability to drop this pitch in the zone for a strike and to drop it low in the middle of the plate, causing batters to swing and miss. Like Harvey's fastballs, the pitch has a great swinging-strike rate (17%) and, unlike his fastballs, the pitch has the potential to get ground balls when Harvey needs them. While the pitch doesn't have the greatest movement for a curve, its velocity makes its results excellent.
Harvey's fourth pitch against lefties is his change-up, often considered the pitch he needs to improve the most. I'm not sure why that is, though. The change-up is used only against lefties, who Harvey hasn't had trouble with, and he has three other excellent pitches to deal with besides. Regardless, there's a weird obsession with the change-up at times in the majors, thanks to what I like to call the Dan Warthen Doctrine — "Everyone needs a change-up!". No, it makes no sense in some cases, such as Harvey's (see also Niese, Jonathon). In any event, Harvey has had okay results with the change-up: He has gotten a swinging strike nearly 20% of the time he's thrown the pitch, which is a good rate. The problem is that Harvey's location with the pitch isn't ideal, in the low-outside corner (which is where he's had the most success). Where Harvey has missed in the middle of the plate, he's been hit. Where he's missed elsewhere, the pitch has been taken for a ball. Overall, the pitch hasn't been great for Harvey so far, but, again, he doesn't seem to really need the pitch anyway.
All told, Harvey has a ridiculous swinging-strike rate of 17.6% against lefties. For reference, the average swinging-strike rate for righty pitchers against lefties is 8.6%, so Harvey is doubling that.
Figure 3: Harvey's Pitches against right-handed batters. The rectangle in the center of each graph represents the strike zone. As with Figure 1, the graphs hare from a catcher's point of view --> The left side of the graph is where a right-handed batter would stand, the right side where a left-handed batter would stand.
As I mentioned earlier, Harvey primarily uses two pitches against righties: A fastball (mainly four-seam) and a slider. I'm not completely confident saying he uses the two-seamer much against righties because of how close his two-seamer and four-seamer look on PITCHf/x plots. But I've labeled them as such as you can see above.
Notice something about those pitch location charts above? They're nearly always located on the outside portion of the plate, and are never located inside and low. While this makes sense for Harvey's slider, which breaks away from right-handed batters, it is kind of strange for his fastballs. In essence, Harvey is attempting to back-door nearly every fastball he throws against righties. You'd think he'd attempt to go with his natural movement on the fastball and aim it in every now and then, but he basically refuses to do so.
This is the main reason Harvey was having control issues against these hitters in his first four starts: he was missing away with his fastballs, resulting in walks. Harvey's fastballs have only been marginally effective against righties — he gets below-average swinging-strike rates on both of them against these batters.
Rather, the reason why Harvey is still able to strike out these batters is the effectiveness of his slider, which gets a 19% swinging-strike rate against righties. In addition, the pitch is basically the only extreme ground ball pitch in Harvey's arsenal so far, in a limited sample size (eight out of 10 balls in play have been hit on the ground).
Harvey doesn't use his change-up at all against righties, but he will sneak in a curve every now and then (14 so far for roughly 6% of pitches). It's hard to make a judgment on the curve here on so few pitches, but it has been effective in limited use.
What Harvey has had issues so far, despite the talk of his change-up, is right-handed hitters, so we should take note of how he does against those batters in upcoming starts. There's a lot of potential here and Harvey did do great against seven righties thrown out there by the Nationals a couple of starts ago, but clearly he needs to work on this aspect to correct his reverse splits from this year.