Matt Harvey is broken. Maybe mentally, maybe physically, maybe a bit of both. It doesn't have to be the kind of problem that can't be fixed. It's possible that the New York Mets just need to unplug him and plug him back in again. It's possible that they need to wait for a part that's on backorder. It's also possible that transmission was replaced with a chicken, and it's just not going to work the same ever again. Metaphorically.
But something is different, clearly, and it was confirmed by Bryce Harper in Thursday's post-game quotes.
"He's (throwing) 91, 93 instead of 97, 98."
The gap isn't that extreme, perhaps, but the velocity is down. Harper thinks he knows the explanation.
For what he did in the playoffs last year? To be able to come back and try to get through the playoffs? He’s one of the first guys to ever come back and go 0 to 200 [innings]. That’s tough.
We'll never know if the extra workload is the problem. Adam Wainwright didn't have a deep playoff run last year. Shelby Miller didn't have a deep playoff run last year. There are hundreds of reasons that pitchers can struggle, and workload is just one of them. Harvey's FIP is still solid, and if you watch the inning of doom on Thursday, you'll notice that the defense was pretty lousy. Even an average defense helps Harvey there, just as it would have helped him all season.
But it's an easy correlation to make, the workload after surgery, followed by the early struggles next season. So let's just pretend we're clairvoyant and all-knowing, and we can confirm with 100 percent certainty that Harvey would be perfectly fine if he had shut it down in September, Strasburg-style. That's probably not quite true, but let's just pretend.
Instead of shutting it down, he blew past the Boras limits, helping the Mets win a pennant. What do you think about Harvey now, Mets fans?
Selected Mets fans: Boooooooooooooooo.
Not a majority of Mets fans. Not a plurality, even. But enough to be heard. And were they booing Harvey the person, or were they just making a natural, traditional noise to express disappointment? Certainly the latter. Booing comes naturally. It's maybe a little less ghoulish when it's directed at a player who shouldn't be in the position he's in -- as if you're booing the GM by proxy -- but it still works as a universal expression of frustration.
Yet the lesson is simple, and it's something fans and players need to remember for every Harvey-type situation: Loyalty is, and always will be, expected far more from players than fans.
Forget the booing. You can't use that to speak for an entire fan base. Just examine what will happen if Harvey continues to struggle like this. We've seen the progression so many times.
- Fans exhibit concern
- Fans exhibit frustration
- Fans look around anxiously
- Fans start coming up with trade ideas and fake roster moves
- Fans get excited about another player performing better
- Fans focus on the updated roster
I can speak from experience as a Giants fan, whose team went where it never had before with the help of Freddy Sanchez. And when he broke, it took about five seconds for a majority of the fans to scream, "OKAY, WHAT NOW?" The pattern repeated a year later with Marco Scutaro, who did what Sanchez did, but better. And when he broke, the fans screamed "OKAY, WHAT NOW?"
It takes about a month for fans to move on. Players sort of have the rest of their lives to wonder if they made the right decisions about their health and careers.
That's not to say that Harvey made the wrong the decision, or that he's filled with regret. He probably wouldn't change a thing. But players should have the right to say, "Look, y'all, shutting it down. I have a career to think about" without being called quitters, without being called selfish. By definition it's selfish, but not inappropriately so. There needs to be a glimmer of self-awareness from fans when the next Strasburg/Harvey situation comes around, with fewer calls for the player to fling his body over the rampart for the cause.
Fans get to move on, and they're good at it. While researching this article, I found that I've written parts of it before.
That's what sports fans do. Should Harvey risk his career for a championship? Considering that the conveyor belt hasn't stopped spitting out new baseball players in hundreds of years, sure! There will always be a new player, ha ha. Keep 'em coming, boys.
Harvey doesn't have a conveyor belt of careers, though. He's got just one career, and it's eternally vulnerable. He has to protect it. And any sense of "I need to push myself for the fans" has to be tempered with the knowledge that as soon as he isn't pitching well, the fans will ditch him. So when a surgeon says that 180 innings is probably a good limit, he listens.
So now it becomes something of an I-told-you-so. Matt Harvey is struggling, and he's hearing boos for the first time in his career. If he struggles for a long time, he'll lose his job. And if he loses his job, the fans won't care nearly as much because they'll be focused on the person who took his job. And so on and so on.
Back to reality: We're nine starts into Matt Harvey's season. An obituary for his career is so premature it makes me want to eat my computer, and there's no way to prove the extra 30 innings last year are even related to these struggles. Hose yourselves down, everyone. Everyone is overreacting, including me.
But even if Harvey bounces back with 95 mph and 40 scoreless innings, this is still evidence to prove the larger point. Look out for yourself, kid. Always and forever. Have respect for your teammates and remember that the fans pay your salary, but don't be afraid to put yourself first.
Everyone else is pretty good at putting themselves first. Especially the fans, who are goldfish looking for flakes to float down from the tank. That's not a bad thing. It's completely natural and expected. Just remember it the next time a player wants to make a decision about his own health that might supersede his team's ability to win in the short-term.