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Sunday, June 2, 2013
What's made Harvey more mortal?

By Mark Simon

Matt Harvey set a New York Mets record by being unbeaten through his first 12 starts of a season. It’s the deepest any starter for the team has gone without a loss, surpassing the mark of 11 set by Armando Reynoso in 1997.

That was the one good thing to come from his outing Sunday, in which he recorded a no-decision in the Mets third straight loss to the Marlins.

Harvey has looked a little more mortal of late.

Let’s compare how he has fared recently with how he started the season in two respects:

Harvey's heater more hittable
If there is any sort of “issue” for the Mets to examine more closely with Harvey, it would be his rate of getting missed swings, particularly with his fastball.

Harvey was getting misses with his heater at a 30 percent rate through the first seven starts of the season. That has dipped to 17 percent in these past five starts, resulting in his strikeout total being a little bit lower of late.

Though some might think that this would result from a velocity dip, that’s not the case here. In fact, Harvey has thrown a faster fastball on average in these past five starts (95.6 mph) than in those first seven.

This may be an issue dealing more with location than speed. Take a look at this image:


Left: Matt Harvey's fastball location in his first seven starts.

Right: Harvey's fastball location in his past five starts (note the height differential).
When Harvey was performing at his best, he yielded a high rate of missed swings on fastballs in the upper part of the strike zone, or up around the eyes (36 percent).

But Harvey is throwing that pitch less often lately. He has gone from averaging 32 “high” fastballs per game over those first seven starts to 23 in his past five starts (with a similar, slightly lower number of fastballs per start).

Those have been replaced by fastballs lower in the zone, as the image above shows.

More balls falling in
In his first seven starts in 2013, Harvey was almost completely unhittable. He was getting misses on nearly one-third of his swings and had held opponents to a .133/.191/.188 batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentags slashline and only two home runs.

But in his past five starts, he has gotten hit a little bit. Balls that were being caught have not been caught (such as a first-inning triple on Sunday that Rick Ankiel initially broke in on) and his slashline is .265/.305/.364.

Harvey has been hit a little harder, though not a lot. He only allowed one “hard-hit” ball against the Marlins on Sunday (our video-review system classifies balls as being hit “hard,” “medium” or soft”).

Opponents have recorded a hard-hit ball in 11 percent of their at-bats against him in these past five starts, which equates to one hard-hit ball each time through the lineup.

That still rates in the top 10 percent (11th-best) among major league starting pitchers in that same time span.

The difference is that the balls that are classified as “soft” and “medium” hit are now falling in. The chart on the right shows the difference for Harvey when he has induced soft or ordinary contact.

Looking ahead
Harvey will make his next start this coming weekend, also against the Marlins, with this one coming at Citi Field.

The Marlins are a good barometer to evaluate whether Harvey is adjusting. His two shortest starts of the season have come against them.