The Stark Knight Rises: 4 Reasons for the Decline of Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey is broken. Physically. Fundamentally. Emotionally. Broken.

Like most Mets fans, I wanted to — ahem — believe Matt Harvey was in a typical funk. You know, a run-of-the-mill, easily fixed case of being logjammed inside his own head. Something we could “ride out” over the next month until a dominant outing righted the ship.

(That was the best case scenario, mind you.)

That’s because I like the guy. Sure, I’ve HATED hearing about his off-field activities — the clubbing, career plans, and his Jeter-esque harem of blondes.

But I like the guy. He’s a gamer. He hates to lose. And he told Scott Boras to eat a bag when the agent decided to weigh in about playoff inning limits.

But, after watching Harvey descend into the tunnel in DC, following another inning in which opponents turned the field into a pinball machine, we saw his telling body language:

Head down.

Shoulders bowed.

Visions of 9-figure contracts escaping his head.

Defeated.

Once fans come to grips with this precipitous drop in performance, we need to accept reality — this might not be a fixable problem.

More devastating is how he’s also shown himself to be decidedly human. And Harvey Days weren’t built on watching the performance of a mere mortal.

So, what is REALLY happening to Matt Harvey? The way I see it, there’s a handful of possibilities:

Matt Harvey has a tell

$_35

I’m not talking about tipping his breaking stuff. I’m talking about becoming entirely predictable within any game scenario.

Over the last few weeks, Mets fans have started to seriously analyze Harvey’s afore-mentioned body language. What have we learned?

Well, when he succeeds, he stands more upright, and seems to attack inside on right-handed hitters. Because of this more-commanding release point, his fastballs sit in the mid-90s, and move towards the hands, leading to quality outs.

When he gives up a few hits, his shoulders slump, likely affecting his release.

When he starts getting shellacked, his entire approach is in question, his head is down, and he’s desperate just to escape the inning. In this situation, he goes back to the well with his fastball one or 12 too many times, leading to glorified batting practice.

It’s a problem that grows exponentially, and is exacerbated by his own desire to win.

Pride + Poor Mechanics = Short Harvey Day

But I don’t believe this one. Simply because his shocking drop in regular velocity is what alarms me most. At 99, Matt can get away with iffy location. At 94? Try not to sprain your neck watching that duck fly.

Matt Harvey is a flash in the pan

Yeah, I didn’t like writing that, and expect a lot of people to throw flaming bags in my direction. So go ahead and hate. I’ll wait.

Maybe this one is a stretch, but we need to come to grips with baseball reality… Matt Harvey might not actually be that good of a pitcher.

Oh sure, he has been explosive and arrogant and dominant and nearly unhittable whenever he’s been “right.” But what if the league has simply figured him out?

Think about it — with his injuries and subsequent time off, most teams who were dominated by Harvey were basically seeing him for the first time. When ANY pitcher throws 98 for six+ innings, and you’re not used to the release, he can look that mighty.

The second time you face him? Maybe you get around on a few more pitches.

The third time? You pretty much know how he’s going to handle you at any point in the count, and are more than prepared when that hard curve starts breaking.

The better pitchers in the game then adjust their approaches each time they face a team, which is how they build fruitful careers.

In reality, Matt Harvey might simply not have the head or body to play at this level long-term. Maybe the swagger was false confidence. Maybe his arm was really only strong enough for 1-2 seasons of high-impact pitching.

Maybe, maybe, maybe…

It’s not far-fetched to wonder if his career might already be on the decline at 27. It’s a horrible thought, and one that dramatically affects the Mets’ plans. But it’s hardly an impossibility to think such a fall from grace might actually happen.

For further evidence, please review the following case files:

And, in certain respects…

Scott Boras was right

harveyboras

That was nearly as painful to type, but what if the uber agent had a point? Perhaps Harvey’s extended playoff run WAS a little too much to ask from a recovering TJ patient.

Maybe Harvey has a serious case of dead arm, rendering his electric fastball a little more battery-powered.

(There are those “maybe”s again. But these are backed by evidence, every fifth day.)

Know this — I’m an old soul, and really hate how we coddle today’s pitchers, simply because now they’re as much high-end investments as they are athletes. Hundred-pitch limits, six-man rotations … it all reeks of weakness.

Nolan Ryan once threw 333 innings in a season, exceeding 5,600 pitches for the year. Steve Carlton threw 254 complete games in his career.

Similar numbers exist for Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, and countless other legends.

Last I checked, none of those arms fell off. And none of those pitchers were replaced by middle inning lefty specialists at any point in their careers. Nope, the only LOOGYs those guys dealt with came with a wad of tobacco and the stench of bourbon.

But, since today’s pitchers are conditioned and handled like porcelain dolls, Boras might have been right about his fading star. I don’t quite understand why legends who smoked, drank and held off-season factory jobs somehow outperformed today’s finely-tuned athletes, but I accept it. And in turn, I have to consider Boras might have been right about his client.

Of course, I’ll happily accept a case of dead arm over the alternative …

Matt Harvey is really hurt (and isn’t telling anyone)

matt-harvey

This is the most likely scenario. Let’s face it, Harvey has never been shy about his vanity. He likes to be seen, and likes to be seen as a success, on and off the field.

Admitting that his recovery from Tommy John surgery wasn’t a complete success — and that he might be a much different pitcher moving forward — would open him to levels of criticism his fragile ego simply couldn’t handle. Not as a ballplayer working toward his first free agent contract. Not as a man who has tasted big success in New York. Not as a man. Period.

When a pitcher feels discomfort, he makes adjustments to offset the pain. Then he makes more. Then he forgets how he ever found the plate to begin with.

Before long, he’s losing movement, losing velocity, and fooling no one at the plate.

(Stop me if any of this sounds familiar.)

I shudder to think about the possibility of MORE damage being done to an already tender limb, but that might actually be the case. The drop in pitch speed has most of us concerned, to the point that no one seems to be talking about it.

Even the always honest trio of Mets announcers seem to be fixated on Harvey’s mechanics and mental state, never really mentioning the possibility that Matt throws slower because he’s in pain.

But this is the reality. Within the next few weeks, I full expect to hear news of a Matt Harvey injury — one that could significantly alter the course of his season, if not his career.

This was not a fun post to write, nor am I speculating for the sake of argument. But Matt Harvey’s inexplicable fall from grace has brought about too many questions about the kid’s health, focus, and even mental acuity. For the first time since he graced Citi Field as an incoming savior, Harvey has looked mediocre at best, and Anthony Young at worst.

What if he’s not injured? Well, then I genuinely believe he has the ability to escape this, but it will take a heaping spoonful of pride to make it happen.

Ironically enough, if he’s physically healthy, then I think New York’s most eligible bachelor needs a month in Vegas to figure it out. It worked for a lot of pitchers, and it can work for Harvey, if he’s willing to accept the problem and admit he needs help before these five-inning exceptions become the rule.

 

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