An Open Plea to Sandy Alderson Not to Baby Matt Harvey Down the Stretch
Disclaimer: Mets general manager Sandy Alderson rarely listens to my pleas. From the obsession over every Ike Davis at-bat in May to holding on to Marlon Byrd, the front office in Queens has their own plan and agenda for the 2013 team.
That being said, treating Matt Harvey like other young pitchers isn't necessary, Sandy.
With the team prepared to jump back into a six-man rotation upon Jon Niese's return from the disabled list, Harvey's remaining starts and innings limit will become a hot topic in New York down the stretch of this season.
I understand that Harvey "only" threw 169.1 innings between the majors and minors last summer, and that anything above a 30-inning increase is frowned upon in this era of protecting pitchers. In many cases, especially with pitchers that have questionable deliveries or an injury history, I am all for "babying" or showing extreme caution with franchise-changing arms.
Yet, in this case, Harvey's season, arm and future don't fit the mold of extreme caution.
Heading into Wednesday evening's game against the Colorado Rockies, Harvey is at 150.2 innings pitched, leaving the team with about 50 or 60 innings left in his season, depending on their true limit.
For a franchise in desperate need of generating excitement heading into the winter and 2014, eliminating Harvey from the roster over the final weeks of the season seems bizarre. That theory is furthered by the curious decision to hold on to a 35-year-old trade asset like Marlon Byrd at the deadline.
Caution with a true ace is acceptable, but on behalf of New York baseball fans, media and casual observers, not to mention the very insightful and colorful folks that makeup #MetsTwitter during games, please don't view Harvey in a cookie-cutter mold.
The Mets will skip Matt Harvey this weekend in order to limit his innings this year. http://t.co/jG1KK04VVy— CBSSports.com (@CBSSports) July 10, 2013
Innings can be a very, very useful way to earmark growth and milestones for a young arm, but 200-plus frames of work shouldn't be the only barometer of stress.
As Michael Salfino eloquently pointed out on July 31 in The Wall Street Journal, Harvey is among the most efficient and economical pitchers in baseball. Despite being a strikeout machine, the 24-year-old does not waste pitches, rack up enormous pitch counts or put extra wear and tear on his right arm.
In fact, Harvey's 15.2 pitches per inning (prior to last week's start in Miami) have allowed him to pitch the equivalent of what would amount to 10 extra innings for the average starter. While an innings jump of over 50 (about the pace Harvey was on pace for at one juncture this summer) would be cause for alarm, the economical nature of Harvey's game would make a total pitch count feel like less than that.
While NL East counterpart and rival Stephen Strasburg is the common example cited during a debate like this, don't overlook what the White Sox did with left-handed star Chris Sale last summer.
Despite throwing 71 innings in 2011, Chicago, in the midst of a pennant race, allowed Sale to make the jump to 192.1 innings last summer. Even if Harvey is allowed to attack the end of the 2013 season at full tilt, he won't come anywhere close to a 120-inning jump from last year.
It's clear that the franchise in Flushing is prioritizing the future over the present, but that isn't an excuse to treat one of the best pitchers in baseball with simple, group-think logic.
Should Matt Harvey have an innings cap this season?
If Harvey labors in September around the 190-200 inning mark, shut him down. Yet, if he continues to dominate at a healthy and efficient pace, there's little evidence to show that he can't handle the load.
Stoking the media fires around Ike Davis was strange and holding on to Byrd for two months of ticket sales was foolhardy, but don't drop the ball here, Mr. Alderson.
If Mets fans buy a ticket for the final home series of the year in September, the ability to watch Matt Harvey put a bow on his Cy Young campaign should be part of the show.
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