No, seriously, Matt Harvey is getting even better
The first 26 starts of Matt Harvey's career have been almost impossibly excellent.
Pitchers don't generally get promoted to the major leagues and immediately dominate. But that's what Harvey did, thanks in part to a pair of excellent fastballs, a two-seamer and a four-seamer in the mid-90s, and thanks in larger part to developing command of a slider he throws uncommonly fast, around 89 miles per hour, which sets hitters up for his changeup and curveball in the mid-80s.
Harvey had already exceeded reasonable expectations in his 10 starts after coming to the Mets in 2012. And then, in his first 16 in 2013, he cut his walk rate in half.
So it's maybe just normal by now that Harvey is getting even better in June, while throwing harder than he ever has. Pitchers don't generally do what Harvey did in 2012. But they never do what Harvey is doing in 2013.
On Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia, Harvey pitched six shutout innings, allowing two hits and a walk, while striking out six. Only a rain delay cut short his afternoon, with manager Terry Collins wisely going to his bullpen rather than putting the most valuable pitching property in baseball in any kind of risky situation.
On Sunday, Harvey averaged better than 98 miles per hour with both his four-seam fastball and the sinking two-seamer. He maxed out at 99.8 miles per hour with the two-seamer, and a ridiculous 100.97 with the four seamer. Alone, these two pitches would make for an awfully difficult afternoon for any hitter.
But Harvey has more than this. On Sunday, his slider averaged 91.75 miles per hour, or around the average velocity for a major league fastball. He threw a slider at 93.7 miles per hour. This is unheard of.
Add in his changeup at an average of 87.8, and his curveball at 84.8, and Harvey had five pitches, with a range of better than 14 miles per hour, operating at four different eye levels. The surprising part is that the Phillies managed two hits. It's not any wonder that Harvey has taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning three times this season.
Just as important as the velocity is Harvey's level of command. That slider is extraordinary, speed-wise, but Harvey also threw eight of them, six for strikes. Five of his seven curveballs were strikes. All four of his changeups were strikes. Just under 80 percent of that four-seam fastball were strikes. Only the two-seamer, at 60 percent, missed with any regularity.
Harvey, across the board, is throwing about two miles per hour harder this month than when he first came up, which was less than a year ago.
Perhaps it seems normal that a player should improve with experience. But Harvey began pitching at such a high level that further development seemed unlikely. Think Eddie Mathews, who came to the big leagues and hit 47 home runs at age 21 in 1953. He enjoyed a Hall of Fame career, but never really got better, instead holding steady at an elite level for third basemen.
Harvey's next start comes this weekend, at home, against the Washington Nationals. And apparently there is room for him to improve.