5 Early Signs Matt Harvey Can Already Be New York Mets' Ace in 2013
When the New York Mets made Matt Harvey the seventh overall pick of the 2010 draft, it seemed like a stretch just because his scouting report was that of a solid mid-rotation starting pitcher rather than someone worthy of a top-10 pick.
However, following nearly two full seasons in the minors and 59.1 innings in New York at the end of 2012, Harvey appears to be on the brink of becoming a true No. 1-starter instead of just someone a team is forced to throw out on Opening Day because it doesn't have anyone better.
The change has come thanks to an improved fastball that now sits at 92-95 mph and a hard, knockout slider. Harvey's scouting report has changed dramatically over the last year, giving hope to a Mets team that desperately needs something to be excited about right now.
Following an impressive start to the 2013 season that saw Harvey give up just one hit and strike out 10 San Diego hitters in seven innings, it is time to look at what the 24-year-old right-hander has already done to justify calling him New York's true ace.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Reason No. 1: Swing-and-Miss Stuff
When evaluating what makes a great starting pitcher in Major League Baseball, you need to look at three key stats: Strikeouts, walks and home runs.
The elite starters in baseball thrive in all three of those areas, but there are plenty of them who get away with just two of the three.
Including Wednesday's start against San Diego, Harvey has allowed just 43 hits, 28 walks and five home runs while striking out 80 in 66.1 innings over 11 starts.
As you can see, Harvey holds up very well against both pitchers. He has pitched more innings than both Verlander and Strasburg did through 11 starts and allowed fewer hits. His walk total is a little high, so that is an area he has to work on.
But as far as just being a pure power pitcher with the ability to get hitters to swing and miss, Harvey can stand up against anyone.
Reason No. 2: Improved Scouting Reports
We touched on this earlier, but now is the time to really dive into it. When Harvey was coming out of North Carolina, there were not incredibly high expectations placed on him. He was a polished pitcher who would move quickly, but didn’t offer much projection or ceiling.
Oh, how wrong that turned out to be.
An early scouting report from ESPN.com before Harvey was drafted in 2010 stated that “his best role may be in the ‘pen, where he won't have to deal with losing velocity (and could easily sit 95-97), he can work with just two pitches, and the lack of command could be mitigated by the quality of his stuff.”
It also said that whatever team drafted him had a fair amount of work to do in order to turn him into a pitcher capable of turning a lineup over three times and working deep into games. One interesting note is that it never mentioned his slider, which now looks to be his best pitch.
Now, under the tutelage of the Mets’ development staff, Harvey still possesses the big fastball, but mixes in a slider with hard, late tilt that averaged 88.4 mph last season (per Fangraphs).
Command, at times, is still an issue. You can see that by the 28 walks he has allowed, but the stuff is so much better that he can get away with a free pass every now and then because the strikeout is there when he needs it.
Reason No. 3: Workhorse Body
If there is a common thread that links almost all of your top starting pitchers together, it is that they all have the tall, athletic frame that allows them to repeat their delivery and work 200-plus innings every year.
Harvey is built in the mold of an ace, listed at 6'4", 225 pounds. The right-hander has a great delivery that uses his powerful lower half to help drive the ball into the catcher's glove. His size and motion allow him to stay on top of his fastball, giving it excellent downhill plane and make it incredibly difficult to elevate.
Commanding the pitch consistently is what gives Harvey some problems, as he tends to leave the fastball up in the zone and hitters are able to launch it.
But if you were to build a prototypical starter to not only bring power stuff but make it through the grind of a 225-inning workload, Harvey would easily fit that bill. His physique is outstanding and he knows how to use every last bit of his height to his advantage.
Reason No. 4: Still Not Finished
From a physical and maturity standpoint, Harvey is done. His body and velocity will never get better than they are now, which is not a bad thing. It is just a natural part of life, where your body stops filling out and you are what you are.
Right now, Harvey is really, really good. But in order to be an ace, you have to be great. You have to prove yourself on the biggest stage in the biggest games over and over again to be included in that small fraternity.
Having a plus-plus fastball and plus-plus slider puts you well ahead of the eight-ball, but for Harvey to take the next step, he has to find the consistent command of all his pitches and be able to deliver in big spots.
We don't regard Justin Verlander as the best pitcher in the game just because of his stuff—his results support everything that the stuff suggests the Tigers' ace should be.
Harvey has gotten better each season in professional baseball. This will be his first full year in the big leagues after an impressive debut in 2012. There is no reason to think the improvements will stop just because he has arrived.
If we are just looking at the Mets' rotation right now, Harvey is the best pitcher in the bunch, and it isn't particularly close. Jon Niese got the start on Opening Day, likely as a way to ease the expectations on Harvey for the fans.
Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner are the No. 3- and 4-starters. Shaun Marcum was signed to be the fifth starter but is on the disabled list after battling neck problems in spring training.
Basically, this rotation is going to be a work in progress all season with the exception of Harvey. Niese has a strong enough track record that he will be with the team all year. Top prospect Zack Wheeler is starting the year in Triple-A but will get called up, assuming he doesn't implode, probably around June 1.
But the Mets traded away R.A. Dickey and saw Johan Santana's career all but end, leaving Harvey as the one option they had to really anchor a rotation that is going to have a lot of holes in it. This will be a learning experience for him—to see what he can do without an innings restriction, adjusting to lineups after they get more tape and feel for his style and delivery.
This is the year Harvey goes from hot-shot prospect to true top-of-the-rotation star. That seems like a lot of pressure to put on a pitcher with less than 70 innings of big league experience, but Harvey is a rare talent and will give this team exactly what it needs during this rebuilding process.
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