Once one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball, Matt Harvey has struggled over the past two seasons. Harvey is no longer The Dark Knight, if anything he is Alfred. Harvey is a shell of his former self and no longer appears to possess the prowess that helped lead one of the most dominant pitching staff’s in all of baseball. However his struggles can be reversed in 2018. They all start with newly hired manager of the New York Mets Mickey Callaway.
Callaway spent the past five seasons with the Cleveland Indians. As their pitching coach Cleveland has been the most consistent group of pitchers in that time. Cleveland has led the league in strikeouts for the past four seasons. The Indians led the major leagues in ERA and strikeouts in 2017. The final and most important detail is Callaway’s preference of the curveball. Cleveland’s curveball usage led all of baseball during his tenure. This is good news.
Matt Harvey: Success and failure based on one pitch
Harvey’s most dominant seasons came in 2013 and 2015. In between these years Harvey missed an entire season due to Tommy John surgery. In 2013 Harvey sported an ERA of 2.27, WHIP of .931 and struck out 191 batters in 26 games. During the 2015 season Harvey had an ERA of 2.71, WHIP of 1.019 and stuck out 188 batters in 29 games. The following two seasons were not as kind to Harvey. Harvey had a 4.86 ERA, 1.468 WHIP and only struck out 76 batters in 17 games. In 2017 Harvey struggled with a 6.70 ERA, 1.694 WHIP and struck out 67 batters in 19 games. When analyzing Harvey’s pitch selection during this period, his success and failure appears to be a direct result of one pitch. The curveball.
Harvey’s curveball usage in the two successful campaigns was higher than his unsuccessful seasons. In fact his effectiveness has steadily declined with the decrease in curveball usage. The following is a breakdown of curveball usage by year since 2013,
2013: 13.4 percent
2015: 12.6 percent
2016: 10.1 percent
2017: 7.2 percent
As each year has progressed Harvey has used his curveball less and his effectiveness has decreased. During Harvey’s successful campaigns featured a careful balance of all four of his pitches. His less successful seasons were the result fastball and slider heavy pitch selections. With a new manager in Callaway, Harvey could see a return to heavy curveball usage and a return to success.
Mickey Callaway’s previous success stories could be a good sign for Matt Harvey
There is little doubt that Callaway wants to fix Harvey. Several pitchers Callaway coached in Cleveland were either unknowns or broken in one way or another. Few people knew who Corey Kluber was before Callaway, now Kluber has won the Cy Young Award twice. Carlos Carrasco was one the most inconsistent pitchers in Cleveland before Callaway helped him become the second ace of the Cleveland staff. If Callaway could take pitchers who did not show this type of potential before his arrival reach these heights, it is entirely possible that he can fix Harvey. Harvey has previously shown his dominance, he was once a premier pitcher in New York. Callaway can fix him.
Will Matt Harvey return to being The Dark Knight?
Embracing the curveball will without a doubt help his cause, but this not a guarantee. As pitcher’s age a drop in velocity occurs and Harvey is not exempt from this inevitably. Harvey’s pitches have experienced a small but steady drop over the years but the positive is that it is not drastic. The negative is that overall the pitches are slower which reduces the overall effectiveness of his fastball and slider. This is where an emphasis on the curveball can come into play. To combat Kluber’s relatively low velocity (around 92 miles per hour), Callaway utilized an extremely high curveball frequency (27.4 percent of Kluber’s pitches in 2017 were curveballs). While it would be a bit extreme for Harvey to suddenly throw that many curveballs, a percentage around his 2015 number would suffice.
At the end of the day it is not a guarantee that Harvey will return to his former glory. The Dark Knight could be an alter ego that will remain in the past never to be seen again. However with his new manager and assumed new emphasis on the curveball, The Dark Knight could rise and return to his former glory.