Mets’ Harvey needs to be unrestricted during postseason
The Matt Harvey innings saga has passed the point of being a sideshow. This past Sunday night, during a relatively important game, the leash on Harvey — after 77 pitches and five innings — resulted in a 1-0 Mets lead turning into a Yankees blowout during a glorified spring training game. A situation like that cannot happen during the postseason.
A few weeks ago, Scott Boras claimed that 180 innings was a hard limit recommended by Harvey’s surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, though Andrews told the Mets that is not the case. On Monday night, Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen referred to Boras’ tactics as “junk science,” and a recent article by Jayson Stark of ESPN — where medical experts who weighed in said there was no scientific evidence showing that Harvey will get hurt if he pushes past 180 innings or won’t get hurt if he doesn’t — seems to bear that out.
However, no matter who is to “blame” here, the only thing that really matters is how this might affect Harvey and the Mets once the postseason begins.
In the grand scheme of things, Harvey — and all Tommy John recipients — should probably be getting evaluated as it pertains to high-stress pitches, total number of pitches, efficiency, and other factors. Measuring this by innings seems to be foolish. But at this point, it’s too late to worry about that. Now, it’s all about the postseason.
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Harvey has averaged a shade under 14.8 pitches per inning this season, making him one of the most efficient starting pitchers in baseball. He’s at 176.2 innings so far in 2015, and his abbreviated performance on Sunday night against the Yankees was arguably one of his most dominant of the season. His rehab was roughly 18 months, and he’s been handled with kid gloves by the Mets since returning.
The plan, which has changed several times since Boras injected himself in the situation, is for Harvey to pitch shortened outings this week in Cincinnati and again during the last series of the season against the Nationals. That would theoretically put Harvey at 185 innings or so entering the postseason.
Now, the Mets have intimated that if they reach the postseason, Harvey will be expected to pitch once per series. The plan from the time Harvey stepped back on a major league mound was to have him available and unleashed for the playoffs. If that’s how this plays out, great. If not, there’s a case to be made for leaving Harvey off the playoff roster.
Here’s a scenario…
The Mets and Dodgers are playing Game 3 of the NLDS, with the series tied at a game apiece. Harvey, limited to either 80 pitches or five innings, gets that start. He throws 30 pitches in the first inning but gets through unscathed. Ultimately, Harvey throws 80 pitches in four innings and is pulled. That’s something that would tax the entire bullpen in the biggest game of the season, something that is unfair to Harvey as a competitor, and something that will likely cause friction with teammates. Most importantly, it would put the Mets at a severe disadvantage.
Now imagine the above scenario playing out in Game 5 of the NLCS or the World Series, with the Mets either needing a win to secure a pennant/championship, to stave off elimination, or to tilt the series in their favor.
There are some who will say that four or five innings of Harvey is better than what pretty much anyone else will give you, and that may be true. But the absurdity of the situation lies in the fact that no one knows what will happen if Harvey throws two more innings or 25-to-30 more pitches per start. He doesn’t know, the Mets don’t know, his agent doesn’t know, and the doctors don’t know.
This isn’t a call for the Mets to abuse Harvey in the postseason. Rather, it’s a call for them to operate how they were operating prior to the point where Boras butted in.
In each of Harvey’s postseason starts, Harvey should be allowed to throw roughly 105 pitches — no matter how many innings it takes him to get there. If that isn’t the case, one can infer that doctors (or whoever the hell is making the call here) believe that six additional innings spread out over three weeks or more would be extremely detrimental to Harvey. And that’s absurd.
If Harvey is struggling, if he’s fatigued, if he has any sign of discomfort, you get him out of there. If not, he should be allowed to operate in the way he was operating prior to the last few weeks.
If Harvey averages seven innings per postseason start, which would be above his season average of 6.52 innings per start, he would end the season at roughly 205 innings. That seems like a fair compromise for all involved, something that would allow Harvey to compete in a proper way, and something that should put the Mets in a position to succeed.