What Does Matt Harvey Still Have to Do to Become MLB's Top Pitcher?

Joe GiglioContributor IJuly 22, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 21:  A young fan holds a banner in reference to Matt Harvey of the New York Mets after a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citi Field on July 21, 2013 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

On the heels of another dominant performance, Matt Harvey has New York abuzz. Fortunately for the Mets, the latest string of stories are about his pitching rather than the incessant and unnecessary look into his personal life.

As Harvey ascends atop the list of pitchers in baseball this summer, the question becomes: How far does he have to go to reach the top? 

In other words, "Harvey" and "best pitcher alive" probably are inching toward being used in the same sentence. According to Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel (via the Courier-Post), the stuff displayed by New York's 24-year-old phenom on Sunday was the best Philadelphia has faced all season.

While the numbers (2.23 ERA, 10.3 K/9, 2.08 FIP, 2.60 xFIP, and four "Randy's") are sterling, Harvey's latest outing was just the 30th in his young big-league career. In fact, this week marks the one-year anniversary of his dominant debut in Arizona last summer.

The line of demarcation between "best pitcher right now" and "best pitcher in baseball" can be difficult to define. If the criteria was only about the last four months, Harvey has a distinct case to be at the top of any list, but if more context, longevity and the ability to adjust is factored in, Harvey still must clear hurdles to surpass the trio of Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez.

In terms of raw ability, Harvey is just as good, if not better, than the top three pitchers in the sport. Yet, through no fault of Harvey's, they have been around longer and have proven able to survive the gauntlet of a full regular season. 

While it's unfair to call Harvey a flash in the pan, it's not wrong to hesitate to crown him until he completes a full 30-plus start, 200-inning, six-month season. 

Unfortunately for Mets fans and Harvey supporters, it doesn't appear that the ace will be allowed to complete that task in 2013.

In the grand scheme of his development, it's the right call, but for the sake of his case as best pitcher alive, it leaves the jury out.

Over the last three full seasons (2010-2012), Kershaw, Verlander and Hernandez have averaged 222, 238 and 238 innings pitched, respectively. 

Last year, between the minors and majors, Harvey reached 169.1 IP. While he's likely to cross the 200-inning plateau this summer, don't expect much more until 2014.

Furthermore, the ability to combine bulk innings with low earned run averages and high strikeout totals is paramount to long-term, sustained success atop major league rotations. 

The best pitchers in baseball don't fade late in long, high-inning campaigns. Instead, they thrive and survive, sometimes through October.

Many pitchers have topped 200 strikeouts in a season. Even more have surpassed 200 innings. Over the last few years, around 10 per year have combined the two milestones. Still, only the best can do it on a yearly basis. 

When a pitcher, especially a former prospect outside of the "top prospect in baseball" mold, emerges to superstardom, doubt will follow. Thus far, Harvey has been immune to that doubt. Scouts, fans, opposing managers and sabermetric thinkers are universal in praise for his demeanor, stuff, maturity and work ethic. There's a good reason for that: Matt Harvey is for real.

As time goes on, he'll be garnered the opportunity to blaze past the ultimate checkpoints of stardom. 

When that task is completed, the gap between Harvey and baseball's consistent star arms will have evaporated. 

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