"See how high that is? Doc Gooden was great at that, back in the day"-R.A. Dickey on Matt Harvey's fastball
In his handful of starts this season, Matt Harvey has been nothing but spectacular. Coming into the season, most believed Harvey would become a very reliable pitcher, but the 24-year-old has produced above and beyond our greatest expectations. In the 29 innings he has pitched this season, he has: four wins to no losses, a paltry 0.93 earned run average, 9 walks to 32 strikeouts, a 3.56 K/BB ratio, and allowed a measly ten hits.
Harvey's success is not out of left field. Throughout his minor league career, the 2010 first-round draft pick generally had good numbers. As a further harbinger of things to come, for the ten starts and 59.1 innings he pitched in the second half of the 2012 season, Harvey had a 2.73 earned run average, allowed 42 hits, walked 26 batters, and struck out 70.
Harvey's rousing start opposite überprospect Stephen Strasburg at Citi Field on Friday night melted away the icy negativity of the disastrous series in Colorado, which was fraught with frustrating delays and postponements and saw the Mets lose three games. Strasburg wasn't particularly bad, but Harvey cleanly outpitched him, prompting Mets fans to chant "Harvey's better!"
Friday night's showdown was a perfect storm. Harvey is currently pitching at an elite level. So the pitching matchup, with Stephen Strasburg as counterpart, generated plenty of media attention. But there were more subtle things, too— things that perhaps only Mets fans recognized. Harvey's start was on a Friday night at home. Davey Johnson was in the ballpark. And the clincher: Doc Gooden was in the stands to watch the two budding stars.
Matt Harvey and Doc Gooden in the same sentence? A year ago, it would have been hyperbole. A few months ago, wishful thinking. Now, a month into the baseball season, the outlandish is reality. It's all there: the stats, the magnetism, the electricity in the air.
Now here's where I'm going to take some abuse: Matt Harvey is no Doc Gooden.
That's not a strike against Harvey. Most pitchers cannot hold a candle to the great Doc Gooden, even taking into account his struggles and failures. It is like saying David Wright is no Babe Ruth, or Deron Williams is no Michael Jordan, or Ryan Callahan is no Mark Messier. The greats of the game are greats because they represent the pinnacle of the sport, a level very few can even hope to achieve. It shouldn't take away from our wonderment for Harvey that he is not the great Gooden that came before.
As good as Matt Harvey has been in his first year, Gooden simply existed on a different plane. Debuting as a 19-year-old rookie, Gooden set the baseball world on fire with his high heat and devastating curveball. The youngster won the 1984 Rookie of the Year Award, came in second place in the 1984 National League Cy Young Award vote tallies, and even accumulated some National League MVP votes. His league-leading 276 strikeouts broke Herb Score's 29-year-old record for most strikeouts by a rookie (245), and his 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings led the league and broke Sam McDowell's 19-year record of 10.7.
As amazing as Gooden was in 1984, he was even better in 1985. In one of the most dominant pitching seasons in baseball history, Dr. K unanimously won the National League Cy Young Award by capturing the pitching triple crown with 24 wins, a 1.52 ERA, and 268 strikeouts. His ERA remains the second lowest of the live ball era, trailing only Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA in 1968.
Gooden's 220 ERA+ has been eclipsed by only three pitchers since the live ball era began: Bob Gibson in 1968, Greg Maddux in 1994 and 1995, and Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000. According to Baseball-Reference WAR, Gooden's 13.2 Wins Above Replacement in 1985 is the second best in a single season during the live ball era.
To put that in context, it is more than Barry Bonds in his prime, Pedro Martinez in his prime, Babe Ruth (excepting his 1921 season when he accrued 14 rWAR—the most in the live ball era), and every other baseball player that has played the game since 1921. Before Gooden was legally old enough to drink, he was a two-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, a Cy Young Award winner, and accrued a 17.6 rWAR and 17.1 fWAR — more than many players do over the course of their entire careers.
The odds of Matt Harvey pitching as well as Gooden in his first few years are extremely remote. The odds of Matt Harvey pitching better than Gooden are infinitesimally small. But that's all right.
|August 5, 2012
|August 10, 2012||6||2||5||3|
|August 16, 2012||7.2||1||1||8|
|August 22, 2012||6||1||2||9|
|August 29, 2012||6.1||2||2||6|
|September 4, 2012||5||3||3||4|
|September 12, 2012||5||1||3||10|
|September 19, 2012||7||1||3||7|
|Total (8 Starts)||48||16||20||52|
|August 11, 1984
|August 17, 1984||9||0||1||12|
|August 22, 1984||9||2||0||9|
|August 27, 1984||9||1||1||12|
|September 1, 1984||8||4||5||10|
|September 7, 1984||9||0||4||11|
|September 12, 1984||9||0||0||16|
|Total (9 Starts)||76||9||13||105|
So, who is Matt Harvey? He's the best rookie pitcher to debut for the Mets since some hotshot kid named Jason Isringhausen. Like Izzy, Harvey represents the hope of greatness in the future, hope that the Mets will soon escape the pit of mediocrity that they have been wallowing in for several years. So far, Harvey is doing his part to help usher in such an age. Let's cross our fingers and hope that the rest of the team — players, coaches, and front office executives — follows his lead.