The title is a little alarmist, yes. Matt Harvey’s career has not been that long, and stuff usually just fades as you age. It’s a sad fact. Given all of that, though, his Game 1 performance was still noteworthy, in a bad way. In a lot of ways, he showed the worst stuff he’s ever shown.
Never once before had Harvey thrown fewer than 40% fastballs in a start. That’s the first sign things went wrong in Game 1, but it’s not the best one. The Royals love fastballs, and do well against hard fastballs, and so maybe he decided he’d go with his junk more often.
More of a problem was this. Harvey had the second-worst fastball velocity of his career on Tuesday night, second only to his work earlier this October against the Nationals. Only three times has he averaged under 94 mph in a start, and two of those times have been this month. He doesn’t have his best fastball right now.
That might not be a problem if the rest of his stuff was biting. It isn’t.
In Game 1, Harvey saw, ranked among all of his 68 starts in PITCHf/x:
* The seventh-worst differential between his fastball and changeup velocity
* The eighteenth-worst slider velocity
* The twelfth-worst curveball velocity
* The sixth-worst four-seam run
* The fifth-worst changeup run
* The tenth-worst curveball cut
* The ninth-worst changeup drop
* The eleventh-worst slider drop
* The third-worst curveball drop
Harvey has had worse starts when it comes to outcomes. Six innings, three earned runs, two strikeouts, two walks and a homer is not his worst game. But by stuff, he had the worst game of his career.
If you average the ranks for each of his pitches Tuesday night among all of the games of his career, that game was his worst game for velocity, his second-worst game for horizontal movement, and the fourth-worst game for drop. And overall, his worst game for stuff.
It is, of course, fair to wonder if he’s hurting, and if this is the fatigue that Harvey’s doctor and agent were worried about as he hurtles by the 180-inning limit that was once put upon him.
The best thing we can do in times like this is turn to Josh Kalk’s injury finder, which Jeff Zimmerman revived recently on Baseballheatmaps. Kalk’s “Injury Zone” found that arm slot inconsistency, paired with velocity loss and a decrease in zone percentage, showed some success in predicting injury.
Harvey’s velocity is down, that much we know. Almost a full tick and a half off of a June peak this year. His five-game rolling zone percentage is down a bit, too. But his release point is just as consistent as ever late in the game. And even the total variance on his release points is in line with his normal work:
So maybe Harvey isn’t hurt. Or not hurting in the traditional sense. He could be tired, that seems a reasonable thing to wonder. On the other hand, it was a cold and wet night in Kansas City, too. In any case, Harvey showed the worst stuff of his career Tuesday night. Mets fans will have to hope that it was just the weather if Harvey pitches again against the Royals in this World Series.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.