Penning Bull – September 19, 2017 – The Dark Night

Here’s an excerpt of the short piece I wrote Tuesday night about Matt Harvey, discussing just how good he was back in his peak form—and the myriad reasons why he’s clearly not getting back to that level.

Score, Tanana, Valenzuela, and Gooden all having been so similar to Harvey during these standout seasons really helps bring the greatness we witnessed into focus. Harvey fell neatly into line with the most heralded studs of modern baseball history. He wasn’t merely one of the best in baseball that year; he was one of the best baseball had seen in years. 
 
Of course, that season was cruelly truncated. Harvey tore his UCL in late August and had Tommy John surgery in September. At the time, I wrote a blog post (with a regrettable tone, perhaps, but with a reasonable premise), observing that Harvey had made an awfully large number of unnecessary pitches late in starts that season, and that there had been other signs of trouble the team and the pitcher either ignored or unwisely minimized. (Here’s the link to that piece. It’s of more interest than I would have guessed, four years on; you should read it.) 
 
The trouble was just beginning, of course. Harvey and the Mets clashed over whether he ought to pitch in the Majors at the end of the lost 2014 season. (He didn’t, in the end.) The next season, he and the Mets and agent Scott Boras (who’s usually very good at forging a united front with his player in regard to things like this) never got wholly onto the same page with regard to managing Harvey’s workload. There was a hard-and-fast shutdown time set, an innings limit, skipped starts… and then nothing. Somehow, Harvey just kept pitching. He pitched into the World Series. He pitched into the ninth inning of Game 5 of the Series, past 110 pitches, and past 215 total innings for the year. It couldn’t have been clearer that he was steering back into trouble, and by the following spring, red flags were everywhere. His command was loose; his velocity was down. He took the ball just about every fifth day over the first half of 2017, but his 17 starts break down almost perfectly evenly: six good ones, five middling ones, and six outright bad ones. That inconsistency, especially, made it obvious that he was dealing with a chronic arm problem, and when it turned out to be Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, it could hardly have surprised anyone. 
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