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By Joe Giglio
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The pitching matchup on the schedule for Friday evening at Citi Field is a good as it gets for an April baseball game: Stephen Strasburg vs. Matt Harvey.
It’s two of the hardest-throwing power pitchers in the sport squaring off as the respective aces of their National League East teams. If the Mets’ rebuilding process continues and grows as planned, this battle could commence many times over the next decade with much more on the line than just a game in the standings in April.
Of course, regardless of how Strasburg and Harvey pitch tonight, fans will compare their accolades and abilities on the mound.
While Strasburg’s young career has been filled with hype, talent and controversy, his ability is evident to anyone watching him pitch. From his 14-strikeout debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates in June of 2010 to the innings limit shutdown last September, the 24-year-old has cast a shadow over every other young pitcher in the sport. Washington paid him more, handled him with extreme care and watched him blossom almost unlike any pitcher in recent memory.
Through 13 major league starts, Mets fans have begun to dream up similar expectations for Harvey. With career marks of a 2.21 ERA, 95 strikeouts in 81 1/3 innings pitched and a 173 ERA+, New York has their own 24-year-old future ace to match the phenom in Washington.
Early on in 2013, Harvey has exceeded the production of Strasburg. He’s striking out more batters, walking less and dominating on a start-by-start basis. His demeanor and smooth, clean delivery led ESPN’s Curt Schilling to say he would take Harvey over Strasburg if he was starting a team today.
Schilling should know what a long-term ace looks like. After all, he was one for nearly two decades and belongs in the Hall of Fame. Yet in this case, Harvey hasn’t yet done enough to be called superior to Strasburg. A head-to-head win on Friday night may begin to change that perception, but don’t let an innings limit, injury or Harvey highlights sway your thoughts just yet.
Harvey’s young career and stellar run through the minor-league ranks has established him as one of the premier pitching prospects in the game. Yet with only 13 career starts in the majors, Harvey is still an unknown commodity.
On the other hand, Strasburg’s place among the most dominant young pitchers in the history of the sport has been secured.
Sorting by pitchers aged 24 or younger with at least 250 innings pitched in the major leagues, Strasburg is second in history in K/9 rate, first in strikeout-to-walk ratio and 15th in adjusted ERA. Some names that reside below Strasburg on those respective lists include Rogers Clemens, Felix Hernandez, Don Sutton, Tom Seaver and Mike Mussina.
It’s hard to find more than a handful of pitchers in the history of the sport that have been more impressive through a similar number of innings and games started than Strasburg has been at age 24.
Harvey may reach or exceed those heights, but it’s premature to say that he already has.
Sure, there have been concerns over Strasburg’s mechanics and delivery since his collegiate days at San Diego State. He’s already had Tommy John surgery. There’s a chance he turns out to be more like Kerry Wood and Mark Prior rather than Clemens or Seaver.
On the other hand, Harvey doesn’t have the questions about his mechanics. He’s built like an ace, throws in the upper-90s with ease and seems to welcome the pressure of helping to turn around the New York Mets’ franchise.
It’s not ridiculous to say that Harvey will turn out to be a more durable and superior pitcher than Strasburg. It’s just way too early to make that claim. Heading into Friday evening’s showdown at Citi, Strasburg is the superior arm.
If everything goes to plan, we’ll have the chance to compare and contrast them against each other for the next decade.
If you were starting a team tomorrow, who would you take first — Matt Harvey or Stephen Strasburg? Let us know in the comments section below…