Matt Harvey has once again found himself in the spotlight of the baseball world. In a career that can only be defined as a rollercoaster, Harvey accepted the opportunity to pitch for Team Italy in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Despite lacking the electric stuff that once made him great as a New York Met, the 33-year-old right-handed pitcher pitched to a 1.29 ERA over 7 innings in 2 starts on the brightest of stages.
A Rise to Stardom
Harvey wasted no time breaking onto the scene in Queens. In his second season and first full season, a 24-year-old Harvey pitched to a 2.27 ERA in 178.1 innings, striking out 191 to only 31 walks. All of this, including a league-leading 2.01 FIP, earned Harvey his first and only appearance in the All Star Game and 4th place in Cy Young voting. Obstacles arose when Harvey suffered his first major injury, one to the elbow that would require Tommy John surgery and missing the 2014 season. However, in 2015, Harvey proved that he couldn’t be kept down. He pitched to a 2.71 ERA over 189.1 innings, striking out 188 to 37 walks. His strong campaign continued all the way to the World Series, where the Mets would fall just short of a ring against the Kansas City Royals.
Harvey dominated hitters with electric stuff. In 2013 and 2015, his fastball averaged 97 mph and rode up in the zone. Batters could not catch up to the velocity and spin of his fastball. The slider was equally devastating. An average velocity of 90 and sharp movement away from righties induced lots of ugly swings and misses chasing outside of the zone, generating a whiff rate of 38%. The changeup stifled lefties at the plate. With an average velocity of 88, the changeup had the speed difference from the fastball necessary to effectively disrupt timing. It fell off the table and dove away from lefty bats, good for a whiff rate of 31%. The last of Harvey’s arsenal was a lethal curveball. Possessing yet another putaway pitch with a whiff rate of 30% and average velocity of 84 mph made Harvey nearly unhittable. Strikeouts came often for the young star in New York. Unfortunately, things flew south rather quick.
Fall from Grace
In 2016 and 2017 combined, Harvey only managed to complete 185.1 innings. His 2016 ERA jumped to 4.86 and in 2017 it ballooned to 6.70. He walked batters at a higher rate (25 in 2016, 47 in 2017) and strikeouts were few and far between (76 in 2016, 67 in 2017). Velocity and whiff rate fell throughout his pitch repertoire. He was incapable of overpowering hitters the way he used to and was more frequently missing the zone. The Mets moved Harvey to the bullpen after 4 starts in 2018 and he later declined an assignment to the minors. He found himself in Cincinnati midway through the season. The change of scenery failed to revitalize his career, as he pitched to a mediocre 4.50 ERA in 128 innings, striking out 111 to 28 walks. The next three seasons were spent jumping from team to team. First, he moved to the American League and pitched 2019 with the Los Angeles Angels. His average fastball velocity was 93 mph, a number it would settle at for the rest of his major league career. Similar drops happened with the slider (87 mph), curveball (81 mph), and the changeup (85 mph). Lineups piled runs on Harvey, his ERA skyrocketing to 7.09 over 59.2 innings. He struck out 39, only 10 more than he walked (29). His next stint came in Kansas City. Disastrous would be an understatement. 10 strikeouts, 5 walks, and 6 homers in 11.2 innings. An ERA of 11.57. Harvey found himself on the IL with a lat strain and never found his way back to the team. Miraculously, he would get one last opportunity in 2021 with the Baltimore Orioles. Harvey’s sendoff from the major leagues was unceremonious, to say the least. In 127.2 innings, Harvey struck out 95 and walked 37, pitching to a 6.27 ERA. The now 32-year-old was officially a shell of his former self. Harvey has not seen the majors since.
Italy’s New Hero
When Mike Piazza accepted the opportunity to manage Team Italy in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, he wasted no time in utilizing his major league ties. The Mets discovered that Harvey’s grandma was born in Italy, making him eligible to play in the WBC. Piazza recruited Harvey to the team. Fans were elated. The Dark Knight would be back on a professional mound. As for Harvey, he knew that his old methods of attacking hitters would not bring about the same success it once did.
Harvey’s first appearance came against a Cuba team that boasted names like Yoán Moncada, Luis Robert Jr., and Yoenis Cespedes. Anticipation for what his right arm would produce was high. The first pitch: a sinker, registering 89.2 mph, low for ball 1. The next pitch evened the count, a four-seam fastball, clocking in at 88.5. He also showcased his once-signature slider, however instead of reaching the low 90s, this breaker came in at 85.3. It was clear to fans that the electricity was lost. However, this didn’t stop Harvey from twirling a brilliant 3 innings. For all 3 of his scoreless innings, Harvey pitched to contact. He recorded not a single out on a strikeout, walked just one batter, and never threw a pitch above 90 mph, mixing cutters and sinkers to keep hitters off balance. Sure, he allowed some pretty hard contact, most notably a 104.5 mph rocket off the bat of Luis Robert Jr. in the first inning. However, the fielders are there for a reason. That ball, much like other batted balls, resulted in an out. Harvey managed to escape a jam in the third inning following back-to-back singles with no outs. A sacrifice bunt, pop out, and groundout would conclude Harvey’s day. He put Italy in position to upset Cuba 6-3, achieving the team’s first win in the tournament that saw them reach the quarterfinal.
Harvey’s other appearance saw him facing the likes of Didi Gregorius, Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Schoop, Jurickson Profar, and Andrelton Simmons on a strong Netherlands team who was 2-1 in the tournament thus far. Harvey managed 4 innings, the only blemish being a solo shot by Chadwick Tromp in the third inning. He struck out 3 and walked none. Harvey started this game with a fastball, 89.5 mph. The at-bat ended with a swinging strikeout on a 79 mph curveball. Harvey ended the third with a swinging strikeout of Bogaerts on a slider, 83.7 mph. Once again, barrels were abundant for Harvey’s opposition. Gregorius batted balls with triple-digit exit velocities in both of his at-bats against Harvey, but both would go for outs. Once again, Harvey put Italy in a position to win and make it out of their pool. Italy completed the 7-1 victory and Harvey was awarded with the win.
Against all odds, Matt Harvey, the Dark Knight, stifled hitters in the World Baseball Classic. He notched 7 innings of 1-run ball, good for a 1.29 ERA. He allowed 4 hits and 1 walk, a WHIP of 0.71, and batters hit .167 against him. He struck out 3. He didn’t do it with the dominance he once displayed in Queens. Instead, Harvey morphed into the savvy-veteran arm that pitches to contact. He proved that in the modern game dominated by flamethrowers, there is still a place for the crafty arm.