By Matt Citak
Whether or not you’re a fan of the New York Mets, you have to feel for Matt Harvey.
Harvey looked like a star in the making during his rookie season. He started 10 games during his rookie campaign in 2012, pitching to a 2.73 ERA and holding opponents to a .200 batting average. The 6-foot-4 pitcher out of North Carolina struck out an impressive 28.6 percent of the batters he faced, totaling nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings.
For his first taste of the majors, Harvey was pretty amazing. But it’s what he did the following season that truly put the “Dark Knight” on the map, and what led to the birth of “Harvey Day.”
Harvey started 26 games in 2013 and went 9-5 despite being one of the best pitchers in the league. He threw 178.1 innings throughout the season, earning a 2.27 ERA and leading the league with a 2.01 FIP. For those of you that don’t know, FIP is a statistic that estimates a pitcher’s run prevention independent of the performance of their defense, and is considered by many to be a better representation of one’s performance than ERA.
But his 2013 dominance went even further than that. Harvey was able to cut his walk-rate down to 4.5 percent, while keeping his strikeout rate at 27.7 percent. The average velocity on his fastball was 95.8 mph, while his other pitches (slider, curveball, and changeup) all ranked as plus pitches as well. He would finish the season with an incredible 6.5 WAR, was named an All-Star, and placed fourth in the NL Cy Young race.
To put it simply, Harvey was one of the, if not the best, pitchers in baseball that year.
Even after missing the entire 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Harvey bounced back in 2015 and once again looked like an ace. He accumulated 189.1 innings pitched during the regular season, recording a 13-8 record with an ERA of 2.71 while holding opponents to a .222 batting average.
These stats would be very good for any pitcher, let alone one in his first season back after TJ surgery.
But, unfortunately for the Mets (and all fans of MLB), it seemed as if somebody broke the Bat-Signal sitting on top of Citi Field following New York’s improbable run to the 2015 World Series.
Harvey did not look the same during the 2016 season. He made 17 starts that year, going 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA in just 92.2 innings. It was in the middle of this season that Harvey was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, an injury that forced him to miss the remainder of the year and led to the ultimate demise of the “Dark Knight.”
Following a very poor 2017 campaign that saw him go 5-7 with a 6.70 ERA in 92.2 innings (18 starts), Harvey came into spring training this year with hope.
There was talk about his velocity and command returning, so much so that former Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox said he looked like the “old Harvey” and like “a no. 1” pitcher back in the beginning of March.
However, as we have witnessed through the first 30+ games of the season, this was far from the truth.
Harvey pitched 27.0 innings for the Mets in 2018, earning a 7.00 ERA and 5.67 FIP. He struck out just 16 percent of the batters he faced, while his walk-rate jumped to 7.3 percent. His fastball, curveball, and changeup all posted negative pitch values, while his strongest pitch, his slider, has only been average. In his eight appearances, the 29-year-old surrendered a .303/.355/.550 batting line, making each opposing batter look like a young Mickey Mantle at the plate.
To sum up, Harvey has been absolutely awful this season. Actually, he’s been awful since the start of the 2016 season.
That is why you can’t help but feel bad for the once-dominant pitcher.
Harvey went from being one of the game’s best pitchers to one unable to record an out in an offseason. And while his off-the-field shenanigans would sometimes bother the Mets, his behavior was not so bad as to deserve such a steep and quick decline.
The Mets designated Harvey for assignment this past weekend, ending his roller-coaster tenure in Queens.
As a Mets fan, it seems like just yesterday I was getting excited for “Harvey Day” every fifth day. In fact in his first two seasons in the majors, seeing Harvey pitch was just about the only thing we had to look forward to as Mets fans. You could go to Citi Field any day of the week and be sure to see hundreds of Batman masks around the stadium, despite the team finishing well below .500 in both of those campaigns.
Sadly, those days are long in the rear-view mirror. The Mets now have a few more days to find a trade partner for the pitcher, otherwise they will be forced to release him.
I wish for nothing but the best for Harvey, and hope that wherever he lands next, he is able to find some of the old magic that made him one of the most exciting pitchers in the league for years.
So here’s to you, Dark Knight. It may not have ended how any of us would have liked, but you will forever hold a place in Mets history.
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.