New York Mets

Through two uninspiring starts in the 2016 season, Matt Harvey looks nothing like the New York Mets ace everyone wished he’d be.

By Jeremy Fialkow

The New York Mets have a certain set of expectations for the 2016 team.

These expectation include, but are not limited to: a second consecutive World Series appearance, and dominant pitching, led by Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey.

Both are tasks of immense difficulty, but issues concerning the latter – pitching – have manifested alarmingly early in this young season.

There’s nothing wrong with Jacob deGrom‘s throwing as the 2015 All-Star won in his season debut. Or, Noah Syndergaard, the up-and-coming prodigy, for that matter. Steven Matz had a rough start, Monday, but he’s got the rookie excuse and had a 10-day layoff prior. Zack Wheeler? Recovering nicely.

So, what’s the problem?

Amidst Cy Young expectations, the Dark Knight is crumbling under the spotlight. While the flamethrower’s stories normally concern a lack of run-support, this time around, it’s Harvey who’s not providing for the team.

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Donning a career 8-0 record with a 2.35 ERA in April entering 2016, and taking the mound on Opening Day, surely, he would get off to a great start, right?

Wrong.

Through two starts, Harvey’s April log now sits at 8-2. The 26-year-old pitching vigilante is 0-2 for the first time in his career.

His two losing starts, one against the Kansas City Royals, one against the Philadelphia Phillies, we’re not terrible. In each, he allowed three runs, over 5.2 and 6.0 innings, respectively.

Nevertheless, the sub-standard performances leave some blinding questions, in the wake of a promising New York season: Has Matt Harvey become less-than un-hittable? Is he vulnerable?

Signs of potential issues concerning the Dark Knight’s immortality (or, mortality, as it appears) began weeks ago. During Grapefruit League play, Harvey’s bladder wasn’t the only thing he had trouble controlling, but, his pitching too.

Across 12 innings during Spring Training, he allowed 10 earned runs on 13 hits and walked nine, too. Batters hit to a .302 average against him, bloating his preseason ERA to 7.50.

When the regular season began, his play didn’t get any better. In fact, things are worse. Opponent’s batting average against the Caped Crusader is currently .326. For comparison, in 2013, batters hit a mere .209 against him, and in 2015, the opposition batted .222.

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The Mets have barely begun to embark on their 162-game journey, and Harvey has already surrendered nearly 10% of the hits he allowed throughout all of 2015 (14, 156).

Still, the most concerning area of Harvey’s slow start, more worrisome than 14 hits and four walks, is the fact he has just five strikeouts over 11 2/3 innings of work.

In 67 career starts he had never struck out three or fewer batters in consecutive games, until last week.

In year’s past, Harvey was a King of Ks, so to speak. After pitching sub-200 innings in both 2013 and 2015, he still finished those seasons with 191 and 188 strikeouts, respectively.

Remember, Harvey won NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2015,  which included a 2.71 ERA in 189⅓ innings pitched with those 188 strikeouts. It was his first season back in the majors after missing the 2014 year recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Courtesy of FanGraphs
Courtesy of FanGraphs

From 2013, to 2015, to this season, the Dark Knight’s K/9 innings fell from 9.64 to 8.94, to 3.86. A stunning drop-off.

Like his peer, Syndergaard, is doing now, no one in baseball was able to hit Mr. Harvey. It’d be a mistake to blame the early struggles on National League teams ‘figuring him out.’

That’s lazy.

Really, it’s just been a matter of throwing poorly located pitches at the wrong times. For example, Harvey’s slider used to be his go-to punch-out pitch. It was a favorite of his in the past. After missing 2014, he slowly but surely started to regain his previous form and confidence in the pitch.

Yet, it was a costly sixth inning slider, lingering right over the plate, left for the Phillies’ Odubel Herrera to tee off on, that cost the New York in Saturday’s game. That mistake, a 2-run home run, and the team’s equally weak bats, removed any chance for victory.

Terry Collins agrees, saying to ESPN’s Adam Rubin:

“What he’s made is some bad pitches…you hang a pitch and the damage is done.”

So, as we head into the second week of a seven month-long Major League Baseball season, Harvey holds a 4.63 ERA and 1.56 WHIP. A small sample size, yes, but well above his career averages of 2.59 ERA and 1.01 WHIP.

While it’s too early to deem this unfortunate circumstance the start of ‘Harvey’s demise,’ it’s certainly a reasonable cause for concern.

Luckily, if one pitcher can’t pull their weight, the New York Mets have a fantastic contingency plan. That’s the luxury of having deGrom, Syndergaard, Colon and Co. waiting in the halls to pick up a friend in need.

Regardless, there’s no doubt The Dark Knight is struggling to live up to incredible high expectations in this young season. Luckily, we’re only 1/27th of the way through it, or, about 4%.

As of now, Harvey’s losing the sprint. Fortunately, a marathon awaits.

NEXT: Is It Time For Mets Fans to Worry?

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Jeremy Fialkow was born and raised in Miami, FLA, but currently studies at the University of Maryland. When he's not studying hard, he can be found supporting his sometimes hopeless NY teams: Knicks, Mets, Jets, and Isles. Your sympathy is appreciated.