Matt Harvey is set to make his third start of the season tonight as the Mets look to win their tenth consecutive game and the second of three games against the visiting Brewers. With the standard April caveat that it’s extremely early and we don’t know how things will look a few months from now, Harvey’s first two starts this year have gone better than his 2017 season did.
None of Harvey’s work looks anything like the pitcher he was before he needed surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in 2016. Brooks has his four-seam fastball averaging 92.84 miles per hour through his first two starts, down from 94.42 last year and the 95-96 averages that he had been putting up in all of his major league seasons before that. Those velocity numbers are down across the board, with his changeup, slider, and curve all 2-3 miles per hour slower than they were a few years ago.
Velocity certainly helps, but it isn’t always the entire picture. Harvey’s strikeout rate is still low at 16.3 percent, and he hasn’t eclipsed 20 percent with that rate since 2015. But in his two starts this year, his walk rate has been 4.7 percent, way down from 10.9 percent last year and 6.2 percent the year before that—and in line with the walk rates Harvey posted in 2013 and 2015. With velocity still in decline and his strikeout rate not getting any better thus far, it will be crucial for Harvey to limit walks this year.
As far as pitch usage goes this year, Harvey has leaned heavily on his fastball, as he always has, but he’s thrown a sliders 31.58 percent of the time, per Brooks. If he were to maintain that rate, or anything even close to it, it would be the highest slider usage of his career. And the pitch has done well in terms of generating swings and misses, with opposing hitters doing so 12.96 percent of the time.
Harvey’s other pitches have been a mixed bag when it comes to whiffs. The fastball has a respectable 9.18 percent rate, but his changeup and curve—which have only accounted for a small portion of his pitches thrown this year—have zero swings and misses. Add all of it up, and Harvey has a 9.4 percent swinging strike rate, which is up from last year but still a shade below the 10.2 percent average for major league starting pitchers this year. Even if he keeps doing what he’s been doing, the swinging strike rate could indicate there are better things in store for his strikeout rate.
Maybe all you need to have a little hope for Harvey is his 3.60 ERA or his 3.85 FIP. Those numbers can be deceiving this early in the season, and maybe these little things that he seems to be doing better won’t lead to success going forward. But for now, it’s good to see that some things are going better for him than they were last year.