Legends On Deck

The Dark Knight’s Next Evolution: From Hurler to Pitcher

ALEX TRAUTWIG/MLB PHOTOS

I have been reading report after report about how Matt Harvey has had diminishing velocity of his fastball after his “thoracic outlet syndrome” surgery on July 18, 2016. According to a report on CBSSports.com, Harvey’s Spring Training start on March 11 had his fastball topped out at 94 MPH, unlike his normal 96 MPH heater he averaged prior to going under the knife.

I ask the question: SO?

“The Dark Knight” has had quite the up-and-down career ever since coming up to the Major Leagues on July 26, 2012. He was the toast of the town, establishing himself as baseball’s hottest young stud throughout 2013, reaching the power of his peak with starting the All Star Game in Citi Field. Then, after sitting out the entire 2014 campaign after having Tommy John Surgery, Harvey stormed back in 2015 with a 13-8 record with a 2.71 ERA and 188 strikeouts. Combining the postseason, Harvey became the first pitcher to throw over 200 innings in a single season in his first year back.

However, 2016 was a nightmare for Harvey. After struggling throughout the first half of the season, going 4-10 in 17 starts with a 4.86 ERA, Harvey was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, thoracic outlet syndrome is “a group of disorders that occur when blood vessels or nerves in the space between your collarbone and your first rib (thoracic outlet) are compressed. This can cause pain in your shoulders and neck and numbness in your fingers. Common causes of thoracic outlet syndrome include physical trauma from a car accident, repetitive injuries from job- or sports-related activities, certain anatomical defects (such as having an extra rib), and pregnancy. Sometimes doctors can’t determine the cause of thoracic outlet syndrome.”

So Harvey went underneath the knife on July 18 and was out for the remainder of the 2016 campaign. His surgery was so extensive that, according to Adam Rubin, it “involved removing a rib so that muscles constricting a nerve that bridges the neck and shoulder had space to relax.”

With a life-altering surgery such as this (Phil Hughes also underwent the surgery as well), there is no guarantee Harvey will be the same pitcher he once was. Which is why I am sort of stunned by the amount of press behind the few miles an hour drop in the fastball of “the Dark Knight”.

The radar gun, in my mind, has really set back the art of pitching. Pitchers have never thrown harder than they do nowadays. In particular, the StatCast era has illustrated how hard pitchers have been throwing on average with each particular pitch. There were over 40 pitches thrown by 35 players last year alone that were over 97 MPH ON AVERAGE. Mauricio Cabrera and Aroldis Chapman averaged over 100 MPH each per fastball thrown! Guys have been throwing harder and faster late into games. Teams have even structures bullpens behind speed being hurled by relievers late into games.

Harvey’s days of being a power hurler is seemingly over. This is where the art of pitching begins. Not being able to throw gas anymore should truly help formulate the next step of the evolution of “the Dark Knight.” Mastering the art of control and pitch manipulation would make Harvey unstoppable. The best person to truly model his next chapter of his career: Bartolo Colon.

“Big Sexy” really carved out a great niche for himself during his three years with the Mets from 2014 to 2016. Instead of relying heavily on throwing hard, Colon topped out at 92 MPH with his fastball last  year, averaging 88 MPH overall, but it was unhittable. Even though Colon is 43 years old, the man can truly master control of his pitches. In spite of the elbow issues that plagued him in the late 2000s, Colon’s control has completely baffled opposing hitters and teams. Also add in the longevity factor of going at least 190 innings in each of the last three seasons, Colon’s Mets resurgence has helped keep him active and performing on a high level.

Colon’s control has made him a great PITCHER. Harvey’s sole focus should be mastering that one particular trait of “Big Sexy”. Even Mets manager Terry Collins acknowledged that. In an article on NJ.com, Collins was quoted as saying to his young ace, “All I care about is command your pitches. I don’t care how hard they are, whether they’re 92 or 94. I don’t care. What I care is that you’re hitting your spots, you’re using your secondary pitches and throwing them for strikes. If you’re doing that, you’ll be fine.”

And he’s right.

Matt Harvey is 27 years old. So what if his fastball isn’t topping out of where it needs to be after a major, career-altering surgery: he’ll be fine. Control, not power, is the art of true great pitching. Harvey has the stubbornness to prove that fact. Speed isn’t EVERYTHING. His hurling days are over. It’s time to become a world class pitcher with impeccable control and take over New York once more. Harvey will overcome.

He’s “the Dark Knight”, after all. 

Jon Harder

Editor at Legends On Deck
Jon was born in Queens and now resides in New Jersey. He is a die-hard Mets fan and believes HoJo should be in the Mets Hall of Fame. Not only is Jon a contributing writer on Legends On Deck, but he also is the founder of @HardwayHQ, host of the #TheHardwayPodcast and somewhat plays Air Hockey on http://HardwayHQ.com. You can follow Jon on Twitter @TheJonHarder