With Matt Harvey's struggles this season, some mainstream tabloids have taken the liberty to claim that he has never been a star on the field and has not earned his fame with his performance, which has made me quite angry on the internet. I understand the need to generate traffic and sell papers; everyone needs to eat. But not at the expense of the legacy of one of the greatest pitchers in Mets history. So here is some perspective on Matt Harvey's greatness before 2016.
Harvey had a career ERA of 2.53 from 2012 through 2015, his age-23, -24, and -26 seasons. Among starting pitchers with at least 400 innings pitched during their age 23-26 seasons, Harvey's 2.53 ERA ranks 7th-best dating back to 1920--the start of the live ball era. The only pitchers with a better ERA under those conditions are Clayton Kershaw (2.11), Hal Newhouser (2.20), Tom Seaver (2.25), Jerry Koosman (2.34), Jim Palmer (2.47), and Warren Spahn (2.51). Four of those pitchers are in the Hall of Fame, with Kershaw already a lock to join them.
ERA- is a useful stat to compare pitchers across generations, because run-scoring environments change. For example, Pedro Martinez's 1.74 ERA in 2000 during the steroid era in a hitter-friendly division is more impressive than a 1.74 ERA in a pitcher-friendly league where scoring runs is more difficult. Adjusting Harvey's 2.53 ERA on the ERA- scale puts him at 9th-best under those age parameters above, with an ERA- of 70, in the top 10 with notable names like Clayton Kershaw (58), Hal Newhouser (60), Johan Santana (63), Tom Seaver (65), Warren Spahn (66), Roger Clemens (68), and Pedro Martinez (68).
WHIP—or walks plus hits divided by innings pitched-—is basically the amount of baserunners a pitcher allows. Harvey's 1.00 WHIP ranks third-best in that group, behind only Kershaw (0.95) and Santana (0.99). He is just ahead of Tom Seaver (1.01). To emphasize: Matt Harvey allowed fewer baserunners per inning pitched in his age 23-26 seasons than Tom Seaver did in his age 23-26 seasons.
Harvey's peak of greatness was his 2013 season, his age-24 season. Every time Harvey took the ball that year, it felt like he could throw a no-hitter. He almost did multiple times that year, most notably in a start against the White Sox where he pitched 9 innings, facing one batter above the minimum while striking out 12 and allowing only a weak infield hit.
Among starting pitchers who threw at least 170 innings in their age-24 season, Harvey's 2.27 ERA ranks 8th-best dating back to 1920. For a comparison, Tom Seaver's ERA in his age-24 season was 2.21, which ranks 7th. To emphasize: by ERA, Harvey's 2013 season was one of the 8th-greatest age-24 seasons by a starting pitcher in the live ball era.
Some other metrics rate his 2013 season even more highly. He had a 0.93 WHIP that season, which ranks second for starters in their age-24 seasons in the live ball era, and is ahead of Tom Seaver's age-24 WHIP of 1.04. It also ranks 28th all time for a starting pitcher of any age in a single season in the live ball era. His 2013 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 2.00 ranks first for 24-year-olds, and it ranks 11th for starting pitchers of any age in a single season in the live ball era.
Harvey's greatness during the 2013 season earned him a start in the All-Star game at Citi Field, where he pitched two innings, struck out three, and didn't allow any runs. The most impressive of those strikeouts came against Miguel Cabrera, a future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest hitters of his generation. Harvey struck Cabrera out on a ridiculous 92 mile per hour slider:
The pre-2016 version of Harvey is objectively one of the greatest pitchers in Mets history. His 2.53 ERA ranks third for Mets starting pitchers aged 26 or under, behind only Jerry Koosman (2.34) and Tom Seaver (2.34). His adjusted ERA- of 70 ranks second in that age group, behind only Tom Seaver (68). His WHIP of 1.00 ranks first, ahead of Tom Seaver (1.05).
By ERA, his 2013 season ranks as the 8th-greatest single season by a starting pitcher in Mets history, behind 1985 Dwight Gooden (1.53), 1971 Tom Seaver (1.76), 1973 Tom Seaver (2.08), 1968 Jerry Koosman (2.08), 1988 David Cone (2.10), 1968 Tom Seaver (2.20), and 1969 Tom Seaver (2.21).
His 0.93 WHIP from 2013 ranks as the best WHIP for a starter in Mets history, ahead of Tom Seaver's 0.95 WHIP in 1971. His 2.00 FIP from 2013 ranks third, behind 1984 Doc Gooden (1.69) and 1971 Tom Seaver (1.94).
Harvey's struggles through nine starts this year, notably after blowing past his innings limit post-elbow surgery and suffering a blood clot at the end of spring training, does not eliminate how great he was in previous seasons.
Make no mistake: Matt Harvey's greatness and accomplishments on the mound prior to 2016 can never be taken away from him, not by a newspaper looking for headlines, not by a deranged fan who thinks Harvey is overrated, and not by a pundit looking for attention. That version of Harvey is objectively one of the greatest pitchers in Mets history, and the record pages will always show that.