Guest Writer – Edgar Allen BRO
I write this fully acknowledging that Matt Harvey has been otherworldly so far in his young career. Any time you are getting compared to Tom Seaver and a young Dwight ‘Doc’ Gooden, you are doing something right. But I’ve been around the New York sports scene long enough to know that it is very fickle. I mean we’ve seen Derek Jeter, DEREK JETER, booed mercifully because of a slow start to a season where he eventually rebounded, and to borrow a John Sterling term, had a Jeter-ian season.
Anyway Matt Harvey is off to an incredible start at the moment. As of this writing, he has pitched 56.1 innings with a 1.44 ERA and a 0.73 WHIP. Those are his rate stats and they are as mentioned, video game numbers. You’ll notice I didn’t mention his win/loss record because I find it useless. Harvey pitched a complete game one hitter on May 7 start and didn’t get a win in the start because his team didn’t score. There’s just too much noise in a win/loss record for it to be a useful statistic.
If we delve a little farther into his rate stats, we find these numbers (all of this under the caveat of a small sample size):
K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB
9.91 2.24 0.48 .190 87.3% 44.5% 5.8%
As I mentioned before, these numbers are insane. If Harvey kept this pace up the rest of the year, it would go down as one of the best pitching seasons of all time. But as you can tell by the title of the article, I’m here to tell you that it’s not possible to sustain these numbers.
The first number to zone in on here is BABIP. This stands for batting average on balls in play, or in other words, the stat measures balls that the fielders are able to catch or make a play on. There’s an interesting dichotomy when looking at this stat from a hitter’s perspective versus a pitcher’s perspective, but the general theory is that pitcher’s don’t have much control over their BABIP. In small sample sizes a BABIP of .190 is possible as evidenced above. But extended over a large season sample, we would expect this average to regress back to the mean for pitchers which hovers around .300.
What does this mean? It means some of the contact Harvey is drawing right now is either randomly or luckily finding his fielders, depending on which word choice you prefer. A BABIP for Harvey around the .280 mark would be a fair estimation by the end of the year. This doesn’t even touch on the fact that the Mets play in a gigantic home ballpark and the defense behind him is underwhelming to put it kindly.
The other two stats that jump off the page at me screaming “unsustainable” are the ones involving the vaunted home run. An HR/9 ratio of 0.48 is about 40% of what Harvey has achieved both last year in the big leagues (0.76) and for his career in the minor leagues (0.66). The league average for this ratio last year across MLB was 1.02, so you can see Harvey is way outperforming in this department. Again, a regression back to his mean of about 0.70 would be expected by year-end.
The last stat I wanted to touch on was his HR/FB (home run to fly ball) ratio. At 5.8%, Harvey’s HR/FB is again about 40% of what we should expect. Last year he was at 9.6% and while we don’t have any data for his minor league stints, I would bet it was somewhere in the 8-9% range. The league average for this ratio last year was a surprisingly high 11.3%.
All of this is just a fancy was of saying that Harvey has a underinflated ERA. He has no doubt been outstanding but in my opinion, and I can’t stress that enough that it’s my opinion, I expect him to come back to Earth over the course of this season. This is not to take anything away from what he has been doing so far this season and certainly not to discount Harvey as a future star. As I mentioned with Jeter earlier, I just hope that Mets fans can still be proud of having an amazing talent on their team like Harvey, even if he’s giving up more runs and hits the rest of the way this year Harvey will come back to earth.