In a season where we should be only lauding the incredible ascension of the division leading Mets, we instead have another full-fledged Flushing disaster.
On MLB Tonight, we have an ideas meeting for each show. I can only estimate, but I would say I have participated in about 20-30 Matt Harvey-recovery discussions. Did we talk about Harvey and his usage more than the Mets did?
In April, when Harvey was fantastic in his season debut, he threw 91 pitches. I asked my colleagues, including John Smoltz (Tommy John surgery veteran), if this meant Harvey was basically good to go. I was told, given the 18 months of surgery recovery, he was, indeed, able to go full throttle. Using all the information we could gather -- from the Mets, and Terry Collins' comments -- it appeared the Mets would try and ease off occasionally, but try and keep Harvey to "a healthy, long 190-inning season." It was then clear every step of the way that Harvey was right on target with this number, with the obvious potential to exceed it if the postseason came around.
On the SNY broadcast Saturday night, Keith Hernandez brought up the management-labor aspect of this issue, which is a good starting point. Hernandez said that Marvin Miller and the Players' Association fought for players to have the right to seek a second opinion, and not just go by the team doctor. He said when it comes down to trusting one side or another, choose your doctor and agent over the team. It's important to know the history of these things, but I believe we are well past those dark ages of abuse. This -- in my opinion -- is a case where incentives align between the team and the individual.
Harvey only makes $614,000 a year, well below his actual market value to any team. His value will only be realized in arbitration and free agency. That said, the Mets, even if they are unable to sign Harvey long-term, have this season and three more years of Harvey under club control. It is not in their interests to run Harvey into the ground. The Mets were looking at franchise pitcher who, if handled properly, would deliver about 800 innings of excellence over a four-year period. This is one of the reasons why this is so unnecessary; the Mets, Harvey and Boras all have the same short-term goal.
There are two separate issues here: season workload (innings limit), and day-to-day workload (pitch count, fatigue watch, etc.). The season workload, which is Scott Boras' complaint, should not be a surprise to anyone. By the end of May, Harvey had 10 starts. End of June, he had 15. That puts him on target for approximately 30 starts for the year; 6-7 innings a pop, that's in the 180-210 range. This is "roughly 190." (It should be noted that now Harvey is changing his tune a bit (or at least clarifying), saing that this 180-inning limit only referred to the regular season, not the playoffs. Why didn't he say that earlier and save everyone 24 hours of hand-wringing? Who knows.)
Harvey being where he is should not be a surprise to anyone. The Mets being a front-runner for the NL East crown, of course, is a surprise. Boras or Harvey springing a "playoff-contingency" now is ridiculous. It's a good problem to have, and you all deal with it. You have private conversations, and see if the club can back off a bit to preserve the arm for an extra 2-3 starts. That's it. The Mets were doing this, skipping a start here and there, and using a six-man rotation. If I'm remembering correctly, Harvey didn't like any of those plans. The Mets to date have used Harvey only 10 of 25 starts on regular rest. This actually surprised me when I looked into it. Given that we all knew he was starting the season normally -- in April -- the club has been prudent in its long-term usage. So now his agent is complaining?
I have a question: Where's he been?
Even a renowned orthopedic surgeon is guessing when he suggests a 160,or 180-inning cap. All he, or anyone else, can do, is manage risk. There are many factors at work beyond the workload, most notably pitching fatigue. The most stressful pitches are when under stress, when fatigued. This is where Harvey has been put at risk, not at innings 160-180.
On April 25, with the Mets leading the Yankees 8-2, Harvey came out for the 9th inning. I'm guessing a complete game meant something to them at this point. He labored, and was taken out with two outs, at 107 pitches. The last 16 pitches were completely unnecessary. I've gone over Collins' propensity to use Harvey beyond his point of usefulness. Even in 2013, when healthy, Harvey turned into a pumpkin at 100 pitches. In a season coming off surgery, throwing extra pitches becomes a double-violation.
But on June 10, up 4-2 on the Giants through five, Harvey began to lose it. I happened to be at this game. He gave up a single, a walk, a double and then a home run. This was not weak contact -- the Giants were hitting blasts. Even reading that, doesn't that sound like a good time to remove your ace recovering from surgery? Yet Harvey stayed in, giving up a double, a long fly to center and another home run. He finished the inning, and ended at 100 pitches. That's another 20 stressful, unnecessary pitches.
Then there's Harvey's last start this past Wednesday. Spotted a 6-0 lead, Harvey struggled through a stressful fifth inning, giving up three runs. His pitch count wasn't high, but again that's only one part of the picture. The Mets made it 7-3 in the bottom of the fifth, giving the Mets a perfect opportunity to call it a day for Harvey. Instead they sent him out for the sixth. He gave up two hits, but battled through, ending the sixth with a strikeout. Sounds like another perfect time to get him out of there, doesn't it? But the Mets sent him back out again. In the seventh, it went strikeout, home run, walk. Then, and only then, did Collins take him out. There again, are 19 pitches Matt Harvey and his surgically repaired elbow did NOT need to throw.
So let's be clear: The Mets have not hid anything, nor mismanaged anything pertaining to Matt Harvey's innings count. Sandy Alderson is correct; they are under no obligation to listen to his agent any more than they have to listen to his parents, his American Legion coach or his best pal on the team. When Harvey is a free agent? Then you sit and listen to Boras.
As for the on-field risk management? Oh yeah, there are real issues, but not the issues Boras is beefing about.