Matt Harvey And Solo Home Run Situations
Following last week’s post on Jose Fernandez and solo home run situations, one particular question kept coming back to me — 68.5% of Fernandez’s Major League innings were thrown in what we called “Solo home run” situations (ahead or behind by one run or tied). Is 68.5% normal? Let’s look at fallen Mets ace Matt Harvey.
Here’s a recent quote from Harvey at SI.com, who is attempting to start some games for the Mets this year:
“I used to throw in the bullpen like it was a game. Really, it would be just like I was facing a hitter trying to strike him out: fastball on the corner, curveball for a strike, bounce a curveball to see if I can get a chase, and then at 1-and-2 … here it comes! My best fastball upstairs, 97-98 [mph]. I’d be breaking off hard sliders. I realize I don’t need to do that now. My fastball is going to be there. My slider is going to be there. I don’t need to throw it with max effort in between starts to keep it.”
Already planning for Matt Harvey to be the second case study, the quote cemented it. Whether Harvey implies anything less than 100% in games isn’t the take-away, rather, he hints there might be adverse effects of throwing his best stuff, or else there’s no reason to change.
Beyond pitching in the NL East, Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez have a number of similarities. Both pitchers have 36 Major League starts to their name, with Harvey eclipsing Fernandez on innings (237.2 vs. 224.1). Both have elite strikeout numbers; Fernandez and Harvey’s K/9’s are 10.31 and 9.88, respectively. Both also played for below-average offensive teams in 2013 (when each pitcher essentially logged a full season), the Marlins scored the fewest runs in baseball and the Mets were in the bottom third of all teams. Run differential might be a relevant data point, though both aces were effective at run prevention on their own. Below are Harvey’s numbers:
2012: 59.1 IP overall, 34.2 IP +/- 1 run (58.4%)
2013: 178.1 IP overall, 123 IP +/- 1 run (69.0%)
Overall, Matt Harvey pitched ahead or behind by one run, or tied, in 66.3% of his Major League innings. He was afforded a three-or-more-run lead in 11.4% of his innings, less than Fernandez’s 14.5% rate. Granted, the one-run window and three-or-more-run lead are arbitrary, but the idea comes from Mike Newman’s experience managing pitching staffs at the college level. Expanding the margin to a two-run window includes 85.6% of Harvey’s innings. For Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey, each was forced to make a best pitch, every pitch more often than not. This is a source of additional stress both physically and mentally.
One noticeable area they differ is pitch selection as the game proceeds. I didn’t look at the scores in these games, but the following charts show the pitch selection for Harvey and Fernandez as the game develops:
Matt Harvey seems to follow a tried-and-true baseball strategy: establish the fastball early, use off-speed pitches more frequently in the second time through the lineup.
Like Harvey, Jose Fernandez establishes the fastball early. By the 4th inning, Fernandez uses his fastball and breaking pitch interchangeably. It is disconcerting to see Fernandez throwing breaking balls nearly 60% of the time in the 8th inning when Fernandez was most tired and nearing pitch count limits.
What Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey Tell Us About Solo Home Run Situations
The goal of this exercise isn’t to apply the same rubric against the starts for every single pitcher as a means of correlating “stress” to Tommy John surgery — at least not immediately. The point is to explore high stress or high leverage situations for starting pitchers in actual game situations. In time, we’ll look at more pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery and healthy pitchers. The point is this: do high-stress situations affect a pitcher’s ability to manage the stress they put on their elbows?
From Mike’s experience catching, the continued exposure to solo home run situations likely caused more stress on pitchers’ elbows, since tight games call for different strategies than pitching ahead or behind comfortably, including more at-bats where a strikeout is the ideal outcome and breaking balls are frequently used as strikeout pitches. Going forward, we’ll explore more solo home run situation rates involving injured and healthy pitchers. For Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey, the stars align well: close ballgames, high strikeout rates, and low team offensive output. Are these examples of the exception or the rule?
27 May 2014 / Ben Flajole / 3
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