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How Dominant Is Harvey? A Breakdown

1. Matt Harvey’s historic debut.

The incredible (half) season.
Harvey has started eighteen games for the Mets, dating back to the middle of last season. It has been a spectacular, record-breaking start—here is how he stacks up against the best pitchers of all time through as many games.

1st: in Hits Allowed (74)
3rd: in Earned Runs (29)
3rd: in ERA (2.12)
5th: in Strikeouts (138)

The incredible month.
In April, he became the first pitcher since 1900 to win his first four decisions with only ten hits allowed in total.

The incredible night.
On May 7, Harvey was one infield hit away from a perfect game: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 12 K. According to GS (game score), a geeky stat that measures pitcher performance, Harvey’s start was the best by any pitcher this season, the best by a Met since 1991, and the best by a pitcher with twenty appearances or fewer since Kerry Wood’s twenty-strikeout one-hitter in 1998. Since 1916, only three pitchers new to the majors have had as dominant a game. Also: He did it with a bloody nose, making it the best blood-soaked pitching performance since Curt Schilling’s bloody-sock ALCS game in 2004.

2. Why is he so good?
Some things in baseball are complicated, but it’s not hard to see what makes Harvey so impressive.*

Illustrations by Remie Geoffroi  

*Pitch data through May 16.

3. How did he get so good?
Last year, Harvey was a good but unspectacular prospect. A few theories about what changed.

1. He added velocity.
In college, Harvey had clean mechanics but could rush his throwing motion. Since, he’s focused on keeping his windup “long,” extending his throwing arm for as long as possible, then letting the momentum of his body drag it forward. This adds a couple of miles per hour to his fastball.

2. He mastered new pitches.
In the minors, Harvey relied on his four-seam fastball and his slider, but he’s added a two-seamer and a changeup and reembraced his curveball.

3. He began throwing his fastball less and his breaking pitches more.
Last year, he threw his four-seamer 66 percent of the time and his slider 12 percent. Now, he’ll use his off-speed ensemble to set up that fastball.

4. Mechanical adjustment.
In the minors, Harvey realized he was sometimes “opening up” his motion early, squaring to the batter and losing momentum, or too late, affecting his command. He drew a line on the mound and made sure he landed on it every time, ultimately improving his control.

5. He’s gotten lucky.
A lot of pitching is luck—a pitcher’s skill set determines only strikeouts, walks, and home runs. Over time, hitters’ batting averages on all other plays (called batting average on balls in play, or BABIP) will regress to the mean.
Harvey's BABIP: .197
League Average: .290

6. He had been bored.
Old baseball hands see everything as a referendum on character, and many think Harvey got lazy in the minors. Of course, they’ll also tell you the 24-year-old is a fierce competitor. A likelier (partial) explanation is that Harvey has been paired with a veteran major-league catcher for the first time.

4. How long will he be this good?
The half-life of a pitching phenom can be tragically short. Below, the rapid decline of five of the most exciting phenoms of the last 30 years, as measured in a catchall stat called WAR (wins above replacement).

5. Who’s the next Harvey?
Until a few weeks ago, the question would have been: Can Harvey tide us over until Zack Wheeler arrives? Another hard-throwing right-hander, Wheeler has been dominating AAA and should be in Queens for good by mid-June.

Compiled by Joe DeLessio and Matthew Giles.


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