This wasn’t the season review we were supposed to write about Matt Harvey. By all accounts, Harvey was primed for a breakout season as one of the team’s ‘four aces.’ Having missed the entire 2014 campaign due to Tommy John surgery, Harvey returned with a vengeance in 2015, posting a 2.71 ERA over a career-high 189.1 innings along with a great postseason. Harvey had reason to court extension talks when he arrived at Port St. Lucie, as 2016 was the expected to be the next step of his development into a perennial Cy Young candidate.
And then the season started. Harvey got lit up in spring training, describing his mechanics as “a little out of whack.” Health problems began to creep back into the picture when Harvey was diagnosed with blood clots in his bladder, forcing him to miss his final spring training start. With his velocity dipping to career lows, Harvey had a 5.71 ERA over his first three starts of the regular season. After a pair of disastrous outings against the Rockies and Nationals, Terry Collins skipped Harvey’s rotation spot in late May.
Harvey looked like his old self at times in 2016—most notably in a 10-strikeout performance at Petco Park—but his success was fleeting. Harvey never strung together more than three quality starts in a row, giving up six or more hits in 12 of his 17 outings on the season. Now infamously, Harvey didn’t speak to the press after a sub-par start against the Nationals. New York tabloids had a field day with this innocuous story, inciting fans who may have already felt put off by Harvey’s character.
When Harvey was booed off the mound after a Fourth of July start against Miami, it would be the last Mets fans saw of him in 2016. Harvey was placed on the 15-day disabled list with thoracic outlet syndrome, and subsequently opted for season-ending surgery. By the regular season’s conclusion, the Mets had lost Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz to the DL.
Harvey’s lost season makes it tricky to predict his 2017 success. If he was in fact pitching through numbness in his fingers and shoulder pain, Harvey’s 2016 stats may not be a reliable indicator of future performance. While Harvey has made the successful rebound from Tommy John surgery, there’s far less precedent for pitchers recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome.
For what it’s worth, super agent Scott Boras has said all of the right things regarding his client’s progress—predicting a full recovery and then some. What’s more, Harvey isn’t projected for a steep salary increase in arbitration. A bounce-back season for Harvey will be a necessity to rebuild value before his first long-term contract.
The Mets received stellar pitching from unlikely sources in Harvey’s absence. Bartolo Colon provided durability along with his lowest ERA since 2013, in addition to Seth Lugo’s and Robert Gsellman’s promising rookie seasons. Colon has signed with the Braves, however, and Lugo and Gsellman are hardly locks for the rotation.
Expectations will weigh heavily on Harvey, despite his return from a serious medical procedure. Over his first three major league seasons, Harvey produced a combined 2.65 FIP, along with 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. If Harvey proves his 2016 season to be an outlier, the Mets should be well positioned for a postseason run.