The New York Mets were projected by most experts to be basement dwellers in 2012. Jose Reyes, one of their best players and a franchise cornerstone, had left for the Aquarium in Miami and players who were supposed to produce had been phenomenal disappointments or had been seriously injured (we’re looking at you, Jason Bay and Johan Santana). David Wright, the remaining franchise cornerstone, was coming off his second mediocre season out of three at Citi Field. All signs pointed to a bleak year for the Metropolitans.
Fifty games into the season, New York is 28-22, ahead of traditional powers Philadelphia and Atlanta, and is sitting just 1.5 games back in the NL East. Wright has a 3.2 WAR, good for first in the MLB among players who aren’t Josh Hamilton, and the surprise performances of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Scott Hairston, and Lucas Duda, among others, have paced the offense.
The rotation has also been better than advertised. A resurgent Johan Santana and the rock of consistency known as R.A. Dickey have paced a rotation crippled in mid-April when Mike Pelfrey went down for the season. Jonathan Niese and Dillon Gee have been solid though unspectacular as the third and fourth starters. The fifth starter spot, though, has been a black hole. After Pelfrey went down, the Mets have tried solutions ranging from Miguel Batista to Chris Schwinden to Jeremy Hefner. To no one’s surprise, they have not provided the answer. If the Mets hope to contend for the NL East crown, they need to find another starter.
Enter Matt Harvey.
Harvey was the seventh overall pick by the Mets in the 2010 draft after a junior season at UNC in which he went 7-3 with a 3.10 ERA for the Tar Heels, striking out 93 batters while walking 32 in 90 innings. The 6′ 4″, 215 lb righty is a projectable, relatively polished pitcher with a sinking mid-90s fastball and two curveballs—a slower, bigger curve and a hard one that dives downward as it reaches the plate.
Harvey was sent to High A in 2011 and dominated, racking up 92 strikeouts in only 76 innings and posting a 2.37 ERA. Most importantly, he walked only 2.84 batters per nine innings, assuaging concerns about his control. Halfway through the season Harvey was promoted to AA, where he encountered more difficulty—his ERA jumped to 4.53 and his walk rate rose to 3.47 batters per nine. However, a .327 BABIP and low percentage of batters stranded on base indicate that Harvey suffered from some bad luck—his FIP was a much more acceptable 3.23.
There was speculation that Harvey would open the year with the Mets, but he instead got sent to AAA Buffalo for some seasoning. This seems to have been a good decision as he got roughed up in his first three starts to the tune of 13 IP, 20 H, 11 ER, and a 9/8 K/BB ratio. Since then, however, Harvey has put up a 2.85 ERA and 47 Ks in 47.1 innings, including games of 10 and 11 strikouts. Not everything is roses and sunshine—Harvey is walking 3.71 batters per nine innings, his highest mark as a professional, and he has had a persistently high BABIP against. This may indicate bad luck, but it could also show that he is leaving pitches over the plate and allowing hitters to square up.
Despite these fleas, Matt Harvey is a borderline MLB-ready pitcher who could arrive in Queens as soon as this summer. I have my doubts about whether the Mets will continue to challenge in the highly competitive NL East, but if they remain in the race, don’t be surprised if you see the big righty toeing the slab at Citi Field in 2012. Provided he refines his command, Harvey, who thinks he should be there already, will not look back.