Let's go over some key facts about Game 5 of the World Series:
1. Matt Harvey was brilliant for eight innings.
2. Under 100 pitches, opposing batters have hit .206 against Harvey in his career.
3. Over 100 pitches, opposing batters have hit .373 against Harvey in his career.
4. Harvey was over 100 pitches through eight innings.
5. In 2013, Harvey was sent out for another inning at 99 or more pitches six times. In five of the six outings, he was pulled for a relief pitcher. In the sixth outing, he struggled and allowed a run. This was before Harvey's Tommy John surgery.
Knowing just this, do you let Harvey go out for the ninth inning in an elimination game? Opposing hitters, for the most part, are helpless against Harvey while he is fresh, but turn into All Stars once he fatigues. Fatigue comes at different times, not just at a certain pitch count -- but the 100-pitch count is a fairly clear indicator, at least for Harvey. Besides the .373 batting average, opposing hitters have a .440 on-base percentage and slug .448 against Harvey once he goes past 100 pitches. Harvey, I don't need to tell you, is also in his first season back following elbow surgery, and was well over 200 innings for the season.
I feel for Mets manager Terry Collins, I really do. It was clear he knew what the best decision was on Sunday. Yet, when Harvey lobbied to go out for the ninth, he folded to the moment. Collins admitted after the game that he went with his "heart" over his "gut," saying "I trust him."
Let's be clear: This was an inexplicable decision. It is Collins' job, as the boss, to make rational decisions using all the evidence at his disposal. His job is to ignore an excited pitcher and an excited crowd. It is his job to make a decision that leads to the greatest probability of success. And saying he "loves his players" is not a reason to make this decision.
Pedro Martinez, if you recall, told Grady Little he could get the Yankees out in the eighth inning of what would become "The Grady Little Game" in the 2003 American League Championship Series. Harvey, like Martinez, is a professional athlete -- a trained warrior. Of course he's going to say he wants to finish the game. That's his job. It is the manager's job to know when that is not the best option for his team.
Forget this being a tough call in the ninth -- this was a borderline call in the eighth. Harvey came up to bat with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Letting Harvey hit was defensible. There were two outs, Harvey was at 92 pitches and coming off a relatively easy inning. Getting three more outs made sense, given that Jeurys Familia had pitched back-to-back nights. This, of course, was due to another terrible decision by Collins: bringing in his best relief pitcher in a 9-3 blowout in Game 3. This was a poor allocation of resources given there were games on three straight days, and sure enough, it altered Collins' decision-making with Familia in Game 4 and Game 5, both of which ended up being comeback wins for the Royals.
Let's go over some other key points:
1. Familia had a 1.85 ERA in the regular season, ninth best in MLB (60 innings minimum).
2. Familia got better during the stretch run; from Aug. 6 through the end of the season, he had a 1.30 ERA, with 36 strikeouts in 27+ innings.
Now think of the results: Collins used Familia with a six-run lead (in Game 3), but not with a two-run lead in Game 5.
For some reason, as I have written before, Collins has had a propensity to sending Harvey back for innings past the point of fatigue. On several occasions, he allowed him to labor through innings because he is "the ace." Harvey has thrown unnecessary pitches throughout the year.
In the early part of this season, Collins sent his surgically repaired pitcher out for a complete game against the Yankees, despite the Mets having a comfortable 8-2 lead. This was another decision that went against the long-term goals of the player and team.
The Mets were a sensational success story in 2015. Collins' leadership played a large part in this remarkable breakout season. I don't wish to diminish that. Collins led a less-loaded version of the Mets out to a 16-8 record to start the year, which put immediate pressure on the Nationals. The Mets team dynamic was very strong this year, and Collins oversaw that on a daily basis.
That said, this otherwise competitive World Series is over much too quickly, and several decisions brought that about:
Game 1: Playing in the largest outfield in all of baseball in Kansas City, the Mets didn't play their best defensive outfield players. Juan Lagares -- the game's best defensive center fielder a year ago -- rode the pine while Yoenis Cespedes cost the Mets an inside-the-park home run to the first batter in the bottom of the first. The Mets would lose Game 1 by a run. And why? To get league-average Kelly Johnson a shot at DH? They would switch to the defensive outfield in Game 2, but this is the one that really hurt.
Game 2: Collins stayed with Jacob deGrom way too long. By the sixth inning, deGrom was facing the Royals lineup for the third time, giving up hard contact (backed up by batted-ball exit velocity, and clearly visible), and was about to hit the left-handed part of the Royals lineup. Three straight singles later, a 1-1 game became a 4-1 Royals lead, and the ballgame was over. The data is clear on starters going through the lineup a third time. Even if deGrom is your "horse," your "ace" or you just trust him like crazy, all starters tire. deGrom was cooked. At that point, two close games, but it was still two-zip K.C.
Game 3: With a six-run Mets lead, and nearly a 100 percent win expectancy, Collins sent out Familia for the ninth. My MLB Network colleague Dan Plesac -- longtime reliever and a very good one -- said he liked the call because he believes even an elite closer needs to re-establish confidence. I hear him, but with three games in three days, this was a luxury the Mets couldn't afford.
Game 4: Tyler Clippard -- with an ERA near 7.00 since early September -- started the eighth inning. He got an out, and then walked two straight. Players make errors, as Daniel Murphy did next with Familia pitching, but Clippard had been struggling, and Ned Yost using Wade Davis for two innings only highlighted the Mets being gun-shy with their elite relief ace.
Game 5: Harvey came out for the ninth at 102 pitches. There was a feeling of emotional certainty to staying with a good starter. But if fatigue point trends are clear, you ignore the data at your own peril. Harvey is a great pitcher, and was great Sunday night. Just as Martinez is just about the greatest pitcher of all-time. At a certain point, your ace is no longer your ace, he only looks like him.
Obviously this was an excellent Royals team, and the Eric Hosmer bolt for home plate was a stroke of brilliance, hyper-awareness and excellent coaching. Only some things in a baseball game are controllable. That's why it's so vital to make the best possible decisions based on evidence, and not emotion.