The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Matt Harvey: A Baker’s Dozen Starts

You may have noticed that Mets phenom Matt Harvey is off to an incredible start to his career.  The big right-hander has made thirteen major league starts, and, to this point, he has been nothing but dominant.  Relatively small sample size, yes, but his numbers are staggering.  Take a look at his pitching line below:

Innings Pitched: 81, Hits: 48, HR: 6, Strikeouts: 95, Walks: 32, ERA: 2.21, WHIP: 0.984, K’s /9 IP: 10.5

Notice the unbelievably low number of hits surrendered, the high strikeout totals, and the fantastic WHIP.

This got me to wondering about the first 13 starts of several other famous pitchers in MLB history.  Can we draw any valid conclusions to what Harvey has accomplished so far?  Is there historical precedent for such a dominant beginning to a MLB career for a starting pitcher?

I took a look at several pitchers, some active and some retired.  A couple are in the Hall of Fame.  How much success did they enjoy at the beginning of their careers?  Here’s what I discovered.  Which of the following, if any, do you think is the best match for Matt Harvey’s career to this point?

The number in parentheses after the pitcher’s name is his age at the time of his MLB debut.  Matt Harvey, by the way, was 23-years old.

Tom Seaver:  (22)

IP: 101.2,  Hits: 85,  HR: 11, Strikeouts: 59, Walks: 25, ERA: 2.41, WHIP: 1.08, K’s /9 IP: 6.5

It may come as a surprise that Seaver did not immediately begin his career as a big-time strikeout pitcher.  His K rate of just 6 1/2 per nine innings is decent for a young pitcher, but not spectacular.  Certainly, Seaver’s rate is nowhere near as impressive as Harvey’s.  Keep in mind, thought, that a stigma still existed among hitters in those days regarding striking out.  Some batters used to choke up on the bat with two strikes on them.  Does anyone still do that?

Dwight Gooden:  (19)

IP:  82.2, Hits:  57, HR: 1, Strikeouts:  96, Walks:  35, ERA:  2.61, WHIP:  1.12, K’s /9 IP:  10.6

Doc Gooden’s first thirteen starts do bear a striking resemblance to Matt Harvey’s fledgling career.  In virtually the same number of innings, Gooden’s strikeouts and walks are essentially the same as Harvey’s.  Gooden was unbelievably stingy with the long ball, however, surrendering just one to Harvey’s six.  But Harvey was even tougher to hit than Gooden.  Harvey’s lower WHIP is primarily the result of nine fewer hits surrendered in about one less inning pitched.

Roger Clemens: (21)

IP:  78.2, Hits: 101, HR: 9, Strikeouts:  68, Walks: 17, ERA:  5.13, WHIP:  1.50, K’s / 9 IP:  7.5

Just looking at that bloated ERA suggest Roger wasn’t quite ready to establish himself at the Major League level when he first arrived.  The same is true of his WHIP, though his K rate is promising, and obviously improved as he matured.  Clemens first 13 starts do not match up well with Matt Harvey.

Mark Prior:  (21)

IP:  79,  Hits:  61,  HR: 11, Strikeouts:  96, Walks:  30, ERA:  3.65, WHIP:  1.15, K’s / 9 IP:  10.6

Again, as with Gooden, not entirely dissimilar to Harvey, though the homer rate is considerably higher for Prior.  Prior’s WHIP is impressive, but still not in Matt Harvey territory.  His K rate per nine matches up well with both Gooden and Harvey, though.  And that’s 13 more hits for Prior in two fewer innings pitched than Harvey.

Kerry Wood:  (20)

IP:  79.1, Hits:  56, HR:  5, Strikeouts:  118, Walks:  42, ERA:  3.40, WHIP:  1.24, K’s / 9 IP:  13.1

Holy smoke, look at that K rate per nine innings.  That’s unbelievable.  Respectable WHIP, homer rate, and a decent ERA as well.  Higher walk rate leads to a higher overall WHIP than Harvey.  Harvey has allowed 80 base-runners in 81 innings pitched.  Wood allowed 98 base-runners in 79 innings.  Clearly, aside from the strikeouts, Harvey has been a much more polished pitcher than was Kerry Wood.

Felix Hernandez:  (19)

IP:  89.1, Hits:  63, HR:  5, Strikeouts:  81, Walks:  25, ERA:  2.62, WHIP:  0.98, K’s / 9 IP:  9.0

The first thing that I noticed was the relatively high number of innings pitched over his first 13 starts.  Among the pitchers on this list, only Seaver tossed more innings.  Hernandez, though, appears to have been a pretty efficient pitcher.  His walk rate is low, and while his K rate is very nice, it’s not so high that his strikeout totals are causing him to throw an inordinate number of pitches per batter.  His WHIP is second only to Harvey on this list.  King Felix was a remarkably polished pitcher at age 19, but Harvey’s K rate is better, and his WHIP and ERA are still lower.

Stephen Strasburg:  (21)

IP:  73,  Hits:  58, HR: 5, Strikeouts: 96, Walks: 17, ERA:  2.71, WHIP:  1.02, K’s / 9 IP:  10.6

Fantastic strikeout to walk ratio, and basically the same K’s per nine as Prior, Gooden and Harvey.  His WHIP is close as well.  Harvey is still tougher to hit than is Strasburg, and his ERA is slightly lower as well.  All things considered, through 13 starts, Strasburg is quite close to Harvey, though he’s not better.

Clayton Kershaw:  (20)

IP:  69,  Hits:  74, HR:  6, Strikeouts:  65, Walks:  32, ERA:  4.11, WHIP:  1.53, K’s / 9 IP:  7.2

His numbers are closer to Roger Clemens’ than to anyone else’s on this list.  Kershaw may have come up to the Majors a bit before he was ready, but it hasn’t seemed to have harmed him so far.  As with Clemens, the K rate showed potential for growth, and the K to walk ratio is quite respectable for a 20-year old kid.  The WHIP is high, revealing a hit rate higher than some of the others on this list.  Kershaw’s command wasn’t yet refined, as it was to become a year or so later.

This list could go on and on, of course.  But I have a suspicion that you aren’t going to find many debuts as impressive as Harvey’s.  Where his career will go from here is anyone’s guess.  While Prior and Gooden can be viewed as cautionary tales, and Strasburg and Kershaw haven’t been around long enough to draw useful conclusions, Felix Hernandez, now in his ninth season, has had a successful and healthy career thus far.  Let’s hope for the same for Matt Harvey, and enjoy him while we can.

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12 thoughts on “Matt Harvey: A Baker’s Dozen Starts

  1. Ah, okay, that worked. Enjoyed this post, of course, but I’ve been meaning to ask you, have you read CARDBOARD GODS by Josh Wilker? If not, I think you should just go out and buy it now.

    • Hi James, I am familiar with Cardboard Gods, but like so many other books, I just haven’t gotten around to reading it. It should be on my short list, though. I need to move away to a deserted island for about a year to catch up on all the books I’ve been meaning to read.
      Thanks for reading this post; glad you enjoyed it. The match-up of Harvey and Strasburg tonight should be fascinating.
      Cheers,
      Bill

  2. William, life has too many passwords, so this is a test. (I’ve written and lost too often in this life.)

  3. It’s been weird with Harvey. His immediate domination reminds me of Gooden 1984 more than Tom Seaver 1967.

    Frankly though his style reminds me more of Tom Seaver 1971 than Gooden. No matter what it’s great!

    • I agree. He does remind me of a young Seaver or Clemens, but he’s so much better than they were at this point in their careers. Now let’s get Wheeler up and running, and things will be so much more fun!
      Thanks for reading,
      Bill

  4. Mike Cornelius on said:

    Well done as always Bill, with your usual outstanding research. I think we can safely say that Harvey is the real deal. Don’t know that the Mets have enough other pieces to back him up this year, but he certainly represents a very promising foundation for a franchise that has been wandering in the wilderness for far too long. Great post.
    Mike

    • In those rare times when the Mets have been successful, it’s usually been based on pitching. If Zach Wheeler, now in AAA, turns out to be the real deal, then, along with Jonathon Niese, they will have the foundation of success for several years to come.
      Thanks, as always, for the kind words.
      Bill

  5. Thank you for another winning post, Bill.

    In addition to his considerable skills, Harvey brings a no-nonsense approach; he’s ALL business out there on the mound. He appears to have the proper mechanics combined with the mental makeup to be a successful big league pitcher for a very long time.

    Kindest Regards,
    Michael / Grubby Glove

  6. Harvey strikes me as a young Don Drysdale–big, throws hard, pretty decent control. Actually, the Big D’s age 23 season looks a little like the numbers Harvey is putting up now, and I think Harvey’s career will be, given good health ‘n the creek don’t rise, a match for Drysdale’s and maybe then some.

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