The hard-throwing, 24-year-old Matt Harvey has quickly become a must watch when he toes the rubber for the Mets. Called up in late July of last year, Harvey and his blistering fastball (94.6 average velocity) currently sport a 31.3% strikeout rate and an ERA- of 25 — no, not 75, 25. In 2013, Harvey has made four starts, lasting at least seven innings in each appearance. He has only allowed one home run and a paltry 10 hits in 29 innings.
Harvey does feature a number of pitches, but he’s heavily reliant on his four-seam fastball, throwing that pitch 60% of the time. That ranks him fifth among all qualified pitchers in 2013. And that fastball has been deadly.
According to the PITCHf/x leader boards at Baseball Prospectus (powered by Brooks Baseball), Harvey has induced a .042 ISO (2nd best) and a .167 BA (3rd best) against when using his fastball. David Golebiewski from Baseball Analytics recently wrote about Harvey’s ability to win with the high fastball. The numbers were eye-popping. Harvey so far this year has induced whiffs on high fastballs 48.4% of the time, and he’s throwing upstairs over 50% of the time.
I was curious how this compared to others this year and in previous years. So I did some digging.
I wasn’t sure what vertical cut-off David used to code pitches as “high”, so I just used my own–pz > 3.3.
Since Harvey joined the Mets he’s induced 104 swings on high fastballs, making hitters miss 39.4% of the time. Average velocity of those fastballs? 94.8 mph. Compare that to the rest of league (2012-present) — 29.5% whiff rate and 91.5 mph average velocity — and you can see how elite Harvey’s high heat has been.
Among pitchers that have thrown at least 250 pitches in 2013, Harvey’s high-heat rate (Fastballs where pz > 3.3 / All Pitches) ranks third (17%) behind Zach McAllister (19.7%) and Shelby Miller (19.1%). Harvey also ranks fifth in terms of the velocity of his high fastballs — 95 mph.
Only 26 pitchers have featured a high fastball over 10% of the time in 2013. Among those 26, only Trevor Rosenthal has a higher whiff rate (56.3%) than Harvey (52.9%).
|Pitcher||SwgStr%||Swg%||Average Velocity||All pitches||% of All|
Harvey is certainly inducing whiffs at a blistering pace with his high fastball, but how does this compare to the previous few seasons?
Between 2010 and 2012, 91 pitchers threw a high fastball over 10% of the time (min. 2,000 pitches). Of those, the highest single-season whiff rate on high fastballs was achieved by Jonathan Sanchez in 2011 (44.6%). High velocity certainly helped when it came to inducing a high whiff rate, but it wasn’t the only cause — correlation between whiff rate and velocity was .28 for this group. A table with the top 30 whiff percent seasons is below:
|Pitcher||Season||SwgStr%||Swg%||Average Velocity||All pitches||% of All|
Harvey’s and Rosenthal’s current whiff rate pace certainly appear abnormal compared to even the best full seasons over the past couple of years, but the rate at which they are throwing high fastballs appears more or less in line with the top seasons of the recent past.
What does that mean? Simplistically, we certainly shouldn’t expect those whiff rates to remain above 50% (not a shocking revelation considering it is still April). However, they don’t need to be that high for either of these pitchers to continue to be as successful as they have been to this point. Both have exceptional fastballs, and while hitters may begin to make more contact on their high fastballs, the quality of that contact is likely to be muted.
Be sure to watch Harvey’s next start — tonight against the Dodgers — if you have the chance.
UPDATE: Harvey thew 103 pitches in Wednesday night’s game against the Dodgers. 45 of those were fastballs. Of those 45, 10 were high fastballs (22% of fastballs, 10% of all pitches). Batters offered at five of those fastballs (50%) and whiffed at two (40%). Here’s Harvey’s updated high heat numbers for the season:
% of All Pitches: 15.7%
Bill leads Predictive Modeling and Data Science consulting at Gallup. In his free time, he writes for The Hardball Times, speaks about baseball research and analytics, has consulted for a Major League Baseball team, and has appeared on MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential as well as several MLB-produced documentaries. He is also the creator of the baseballr package for the R programming language. Along with Jeff Zimmerman, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @BillPetti.