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New York Yankees

Dark Knight? Not on this side of Gotham

Harlan Spence

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Matt Harvey
Matt Harvey has worn pinstripes in New York, but the royal blue variety in Queens. (Photo by Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

On Saturday, the Mets officially designated for assignment their one-time ace, Matt Harvey. Since he’s already turned down a trip to the minor leagues, they’ll have until May 12 to either trade him or grant him his outright release. Other teams will have three opportunities to pick Harvey up: they can work out a deal with the Mets, who have virtually no leverage; they can put in a waiver claim during the release process, which would mean eating the remainder of his $5.6 million salary for this season; or they can wait until he clears and sign him as a free agent, most likely for the major league minimum.

Ever since the former first-round pick stormed onto the big league scene in 2012, Harvey in pinstripes has been a fantasy for some Yankee fans, particularly those who believe that “stickin’ it to the Mets” is part of their team’s reason for being. Harvey was supposed to be part of the vaunted 2018-19 free agent class, and many saw that as the perfect time for a Connecticut kid, who grew up rooting for the Yankees, to make the move to the Bronx. Even though Harvey in his current form looks nothing like the guy that left Game 5 of the 2015 World Series with a hard fought and hard luck no-decision, it seems like there’s a pretty large contingent who still want that to happen, a few months ahead of schedule. It’s a simple plan. Sign Harvey. Make him good again. Drink Mets fans’ tears like a fine wine.

Harvey, of course, was once amazing. He posted an fWAR of 7.8 over his first 36 starts, between 2012 and 2013. After Tommy John surgery cost him all of 2014, he came back strong, managing a 2.71 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 2015 and leading the Mets to the Fall Classic with a 3.04 ERA in four postseason starts. Since then, though, it’s been a different story. Harvey missed time in 2016 and 2017 with thoracic outlet syndrome and a fractured scapula, and when he has pitched, he’s been a wreck. From opening day 2016 onward, he’s 9-19 with a 5.93 ERA, a 1.58 WHIP, a K-rate of just 6.91 per nine innings and a home run rate of 1.48. That’s a 212.1-inning sample, so it’s not exactly a blip on the radar, and this season so far has been his worst yet. Harvey’s ERA is currently an even 7.00 and he’s allowed an opponents’ OPS of .906.

Besides basically extending a middle finger toward Queens, there are two actual baseball arguments for bringing Harvey to the Bronx. They may need a fifth starter with Jordan Montgomery out for the next two months, although Domingo German vehemently disagreed with that Sunday, and some of what ailed Harvey in Queens was an attitude problem that could be corrected in the positive culture of the Yankee clubhouse. Harvey did seem less than fully motivated this season, particularly after he was jettisoned to the bullpen last month, while the also struggling Steven Matz remained in the Mets’ rotation. To some extent, Harvey’s recent questionable behavior, such as partying late in Los Angeles and sulking openly about his new role, was probably part of a conscious effort to get himself out of Flushing. That the Mets have portrayed him as lazy and selfish after he blew past a post-Tommy John innings limit for them in 2015 and then got hurt is a legitimate gripe. If a fresh start and one last chance to land in an enormous pile of cash this winter don’t reinvigorate him, then nothing will.

But the real trouble with Harvey is that his stuff isn’t vey good anymore. His average fastball velocity is down more than three miles per hour from its peak in 2015, to 92.6. Opponents hit just .247 off his four-seamer in 2015, but since then they’ve batted well over .300 against that pitch, including .314 this season. Now that hitters can comfortably sit on a pedestrian heater, which has always been Harvey’s most used pitch, they can avoid chasing his slider and his change. His swing-and-miss rates on those two types are at 8.33 and 6.38 percent respectively in 2018, down from 17.99 and 16.17 percent from three years ago. His overall swinging strike rate of 8.2 percent is a steep drop from his 12.1 percent mark from 2012 through 2015, which was eighth best in baseball over that stretch. A new set of Yankee duds might do something for Harvey’s mentality, but they aren’t going to make him throw harder.

Harvey is only 29. It’s not impossible that he’ll someday be a mid-level or even a front-end starting pitcher again. In order to do that, though, he’ll need to relearn how to pitch without a high-90s fastball and generally elite ability. That process took the better part three years for CC Sabathia, who had a longer track record and a less speckled injury history. The Yankees are fighting for a division lead, and for the best record in baseball. They’re not about process right now. They can’t afford to guarantee Harvey a rotation or even a roster spot while he takes a shot at redemption. If the Dark Knight rises, it won’t be in the Bronx.

Harlan Spence is a lifelong New Yorker, disturbingly obsessed baseball fan and self-proclaimed 90's Yankee historian.

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