As we cross the halfway point of the season, Matt Harvey continues to struggle through what so far is his worst big league season. Harvey's 4.86 ERA (124 ERA-) is 24% worse than league average, his strikeout rate (7.38 K/9) is by far the lowest of his career, and he is surrendering more hard contact (30.3% Hard%) than he ever has before.
After a recent uninspiring start, Harvey admitted that he has been struggling with his mechanics. "It’s mostly a mechanical thing," Harvey said. He added that "it’s been a struggle mechanically pretty much all year." Basic video footage from Harvey's starts reveals that there is, in fact, a glaring new mechanical hitch that wasn't there in years past.
The major change in Harvey’s delivery is in his motion from the stretch. As a point of reference, here is his delivery when throwing a fastball from the stretch in 2015. It’s a classic Harvey delivery: a smooth action in which he brings his right arm around his body in a full circular motion.
By contrast, here are some clips of Harvey fastballs from 2016. You’ll notice that Harvey does not use a clean circular motion in these clips. Instead, he cups his wrist and comes to a slight pause when he brings his right arm back.
These three clips are from starts against the Nationals and Rockies in which Harvey’s cupped wrist from the stretch was particularly pronounced.
Harvey’s delivery from the stretch hasn't just changed when throwing fastballs. Here is a Harvey curveball from the stretch from a start in 2015. Again, note the smooth, circular motion.
On the other hand, here are two Harvey curveballs from the stretch in 2016. The cupped wrist and slight pause midway through the delivery are almost impossible to miss.
Harvey’s altered mechanics from the stretch correspond with dramatically worse results when pitching from the stretch. In fact, the righty’s opposing OPS with runners on base (.916) is more than two hundred points higher than his career norm (.694).
Harvey’s opposing OPS when pitching from the windup (.702) is over a hundred points higher than his career mark (.573). This suggests that, while the mechanical problems may not be as severe as they are from the stretch, there’s clearly a problem here too.
As a point of reference, here is Harvey’s fastball delivery from the full windup in his first start last year. Like his delivery from the stretch, Harvey has a smooth motion in which his right arm comes full circle around his body.
Harvey has, for the most part, used a similar delivery when throwing his fastball from the windup this year, as he does in the clips below.
However, he has occasionally slipped into that new habit whereby he cups his wrist when delivering a pitch.
When pitching from the windup, Harvey’s new quirk has been more evident and has occurred more frequently when throwing a curveball. Here is Harvey throwing a curveball from the windup in 2015.
And here are some clips of Harvey throwing curveballs from the windup in 2016. In each of the four clips, Harvey not only cups his wrist, but makes a slight yet very noticeable pause in his delivery—in contrast to the smooth, continuous motion that has served him so well over the last few years.
It’s common for pitchers to tweak their deliveries and make adjustments when they feel it necessary. What’s unusual and somewhat concerning about Harvey is that he had so much success with his old delivery, and has struggled so mightily after developing these new quirks in his motion. What’s equally concerning is that, even after recognizing that he is having mechanical issues and after presumably viewing hours of tape, he still hasn’t been able to correct them.
Given Harvey’s track record of success at the major league level, it’s hard to bet against him regaining his old form. If he does, he could help make the Mets’ rotation even more dangerous and even more dominant than it already is.