Saturday, April 23, 2016

Matt Harvey and the Mets' Mediocrity in His Starts

Until last night, the Mets hadn't won a regular season game started by Matt Harvey since last season's division clincher.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Matt Harvey earned his first regular season victory in last night's 6-3 win over the Atlanta Braves.  But more importantly, the Mets earned their first win in a Matt Harvey start since last year's division clincher.  Harvey had made four regular season appearances since the team won the N.L. East crown on September 26.  Those four contests included his un-Harvey-like three-game start to this season and the next-to-last regular season game of 2015 - a game in which the Mets were no-hit by Max Scherzer.

All told, Harvey has made 69 starts in his Mets career and the team has lost more than half of them, going 34-35 in the Dark Knight's appearances.  There are many reasons for the Mets' mediocrity in starts made by the pitcher many deemed to be the future of the franchise.

Harvey's bullpen has failed to protect his leads.  Like Johan Santana in 2008, who had seven leads blown by the team's bullpen, turning a potential 23-win, Cy Young campaign into a 16-win, third place finish in the balloting for top pitcher in the National League, Harvey has been occasionally victimized by his relief corps as well.  It all began in his final start in 2012, when Harvey pitched seven innings of one-hit ball against the Phillies, leaving the game with a 2-1 lead, only to see Josh Edgin surrender a two-run homer to Ryan Howard with two outs in the ninth.  The Mets lost that game, 3-2.

In 2013, the Mets won each of Harvey's first five starts, but then went 8-13 in his next 21 starts before his season was cut short in August due to the injury that caused him to undergo Tommy John surgery.  In three of those 13 losses, the Mets were leading the game when Harvey was removed by Terry Collins, only to see the bullpen become BFFs with opposing hitters, giving up Harvey's leads in eventual Mets losses.

Upon returning from Tommy John surgery in 2015, Harvey finally had some success helping the Mets earn victories, but the team still lost a dozen times in Harvey's 29 starts.  Once again, New York dropped three games in which Harvey left them with a lead to protect.  Add it all up and the Mets have lost seven games when Harvey was removed with the lead - or the same number of times the Mets' bullpen blew leads for Johan Santana in 2008 alone.  Had the bullpen been more successful for Harvey and the Mets in those seven instances, the team's 34-35 record in Harvey's starts could have been a more impressive 41-28.

But don't just blame the bullpen for the team's mediocrity in Harvey's starts.  In fact, the team has saved Harvey from a number of losses several times during his career as well.

On April 24, 2013, Harvey allowed three runs to the Dodgers in six innings.  When he left the game, the Mets trailed Los Angeles, 3-1.  New York tied the game in the ninth, then won it in the tenth on Jordany Valdespin's walk-off grand slam.  A month later, Harvey was all set to pick up a hard-luck loss when he pitched eight masterful innings against the Yankees but left the game with his team down, 1-0.  The Mets rallied for two runs in the ninth, marking the only time in Mariano Rivera's career that he came into a save situation and earned the loss without retiring a batter.

Fast forward two years later during the Mets' run to the N.L. East title in 2015.  On September 8, Harvey pitched an awful game in Washington, allowing seven runs to the Nats before he was removed with one out in the sixth and his team trailing by six.  Then Wilmer Flores happened (RBI single).  Then Curtis Granderson happened (bases-loaded walk).  Then Yoenis Cespedes joined the party (three-run bases-clearing double).  Then Lucas Duda remained patient (game-tying bases-loaded walk).  Finally, an inning later, Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit his final homer as a Met, taking Jonathan Papelbon deep for what became the winning run in the Mets' 8-7 victory.

There were also a game in 2015 where Harvey was actually helped out by his bullpen to help the Mets earn a victory.  On July 31, Harvey was removed from a 1-1 game against the Nationals with two runners on base.  But Tyler Clippard won a 13-pitch battle against Jayson Werth, striking out the hirsute slugger to preserve the tie.  Had Werth driven in a run or two against Clippard, those runs would have been charged to Harvey and the game might never have gone to extra innings.  But because Clippard and the rest of the bullpen (and eventually Wilmer Flores in the 12th inning) did their jobs, Harvey escaped with a no-decision and the Mets escaped with a much-needed win.

So that's four wins where Harvey could very well have been saddled with a loss, but the Mets stormed back to victory.  That 34-35 overall record by the team could have been a more disturbing 30-39 had those rallies not ensued.

It's true that Harvey has been more effective than not.  His 2.66 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in his career says that's the case.  It's also true that the Mets' bats have had a tendency to hit the snooze button more than they've hit baseballs in too many of Harvey's starts.  Harvey has allowed two runs or fewer in 45 of his 69 starts, or 65.2% of the time.  In those starts, the Mets are just 27-18, for a .600 winning percentage.  That might seem okay until you look at how the Mets have fared when Jacob deGrom has allowed two runs or fewer.  DeGrom has held opponents to two runs or fewer in 36 of his 53 starts, or 67.9% of the time, which is not much higher than Harvey's percentage.  However, New York has a phenomenal 29-7 record when deGrom holds opponents to no more than two tallies.  That's good for an .806 winning percentage, which is far higher than Harvey's mark in similar outings.

To summarize, Matt Harvey has been a victim of everything that can contribute to his team's mediocre record in his starts.  He's been a victim of an occasionally shoddy bullpen.  He's also had his teammates take several days off at the plate when he's been on the mound.  But on the flip side, both the bullpen and the offense have also bailed Harvey out a few times.

Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good.  In Matt Harvey's case, he's been very good throughout his career, but he also hasn't had the best of luck.  Put it all together and you have a four-year career that has produced just 34 victories by his team in his 69 starts.  It's a trend that's been going on for far too long and needs to change very soon if Harvey is ever going to be the type of pitcher everyone expects him to be.  His win against Atlanta last night needs to be the stepping stone for bigger and better things in the future.

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