In his first two months back from Tommy John surgery, Matt Harvey looked rusty and inconsistent at times. He had two starts where he surrendered seven runs and his ERA was as "high" as 3.62 in mid-June. This was a disappointing performance by Harvey's lofty standards. For a while, it looked like he may not live up to all of the excitement surrounding his return.
Since then, Harvey has once again looked like the pitcher who gave Mets fans hope for the future in 2013. In his last 11 starts dating back to June 16, Harvey is 5-3 with a 1.45 ERA. He has allowed more than two earned runs in just one of those starts, and opposing batters are hitting just .199/.251/.316 against him during that stretch.
Harvey has been especially dominant in his last four outings. In 28.2 innings, he has allowed only two runs and walked just one batter while striking out 25. This has been his best stretch since coming back from surgery, and one of the best stretches of his young career.
One of Harvey's biggest problems during the season's first two months was the rate at which he allowed home runs. He surrendered 12 homers in his first 12 starts, more than he allowed in all of 2013. In fact, 17.3 percent—nearly one in five—of all of the hits Harvey allowed during this stretch were home runs. In his last 11 starts, he has only allowed five dingers, and home runs have made up just under ten percent of all of the hits he has allowed.
Further, Harvey has pitched to weak contact rather than going for strikeouts, which Scot Cohen detailed yesterday. In his first 12 starts, he struck out 82 batters in 79.2 innings, good enough for 9.26 strikeouts per 9 innings. In his last 11, he struck out 59 in 74.1 innings, which translates to a 7.14 strikeouts per nine innings. Conversely, Harvey's ground ball rate has skyrocketed, up from 41.5 percent in his first 12 starts to 48.6 percent in his last 11. With opposing batters making weaker contact, more double plays are being turned, and opposing teams are getting fewer chances with runners on base.
Harvey's encouraging turnaround has given the Mets arguably the best one-two starting rotation aside from Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. With two top-tier starters in Harvey and Jacob deGrom, and another hard-throwing youngster in Noah Syndergaard, the Mets have perhaps the most dominant rotation in baseball. Hopefully, injuries and innings limits will not get in the way of what could be baseball's best starting staff down the stretch.