When Matt Harvey first arrived in the majors, he did so with a splash. With eleven strikeouts in his debut, an elite 2013 season, and successful recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2015, Harvey was one of the best pitchers in the National League. But he took a big step backward in 2016, stemming from thoracic outlet syndrome that is cause for concern heading into the 2017 season.
Before last year, Harvey’s highest single-season ERA was 2.73 in ten starts during his rookie season, with a 3.30 FIP. And his 2.01 FIP led the majors in his injury-shortened 2013 season. But last year, Harvey had a 4.86 ERA thanks to struggles after the lineup turned over a second time. In July, he went on the disabled list, and one of his ribs was surgically removed to alleviate his condition.
No one knows how Harvey will perform in 2017. His velocity lagged a bit early in spring training but got better as his time went by. If he’s not throwing quite as hard as he used to, it might be possible that we’ve already seen the best of Harvey terms of pure stuff, but if he learns how to adapt, he could still be an effective starter.
Treatment for thoracic outlet syndrome is rare enough that there isn’t much data to determine how any pitcher will recover. Twins starter Phil Hughes, who had the surgery at about the same time as Harvey, could serve as a running comparison throughout the 2017 season.
In 2013 and 2015, Harvey’s most effective seasons, his fastball averaged over 96 miles per hour, according to Brooks Baseball. But last year, his average fastball was about one mile per hour slower. Although Harvey’s diminished velocity occurred at the same time as his performance took a downturn, it’s unclear if the two were directly correlated or if Harvey was simply struggling because he was injured.
If Harvey can return to even 2015 form, the Mets will again have one of the most fearsome rotations in baseball, even if Steven Matz misses time with his recent injury. If he repeats his 2016 season, however, it could make for a long season for the Mets.