Last night was bad for Matt Harvey. Not only did he continue his struggle-season by giving up five runs and three homers in five innings to the Washington Nationals, bringing his ERA up over 6.00, but he ducked out of the stadium without talking to reporters after the game. That second part may not have been a big deal in other cities, but this is New York—one of the last sports media markets with some real piranhas on the beat—and now the feeding frenzy is on.
Bob Klapisch went on about Harvey’s “monstrous self-absorption.” The New York Daily News busted out the “Silent Knight” headline. Even Buster Olney got some shots in, calling Harvey a “diva” and using Yasiel Puig, of all people, as a cudgel. But nobody was more eager to answer the call than the New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro, who has deemed Harvey to be a “phony.” This is the good stuff:
But Harvey has long played by his own guidelines, and has been enabled to do so, the Mets complicit in allowing that to happen. When times were good in 2013, and for most of last season, that meant playing the role of man-about-town, of big-stage bon vivant. It meant cultivating this image that he was a man’s man, a tough guy’s tough guy, equal to the demands of both stardom and the big city.
What a joke.
And what an empty jersey he’s turned out to be.
Vaccaro’s been gearing up for this. After Harvey’s last disastrous start, he banged out a column that existed pretty much to fat-shame Harvey:
And look, while we’re at it, let’s identify one of the 800-pound elephants in the room: Harvey no longer remotely resembles the lithe, elite athlete he was in 2013. The Mets did him no favors re-broadcasting a Mets-Yankees game from ’13 on SNY on Monday night’s off-night; all you need is a glimpse of what Harvey looked like then, and what he looks like now, to see a stark difference.
“He’s 27 years old,” one member of the organization mused recently. “He’s a professional athlete, who makes his living — and wants to make $200 million — by being an athlete. Does he look like an elite professional athlete to you?”
The most absurd thing about that conclusion is that Harvey looks exactly like countless other thick-bodied pitchers who have thrived in the major leagues. (Do Vaccaro and the “member of the organization” he was talking to not remember what Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling looked like in their primes?)
It’s hard not to feel bad for Harvey, who has quickly become the softest target the New York media have seen in a long time. He’s in an impossible position—not good enough to pitch through his struggles but apparently not hurt enough to shut things down—and now his starts are just opportunities for the knives to come out. The fans are booing him, the reporters want him to cry in the locker room, and the fat jokes are just beyond the horizon. (Our own Dave McKenna volunteered to get things started, dubbing the nominal ace Matt Heavy).
As for what’s actually wrong with Harvey, it’s tough to say. It’s perfectly reasonable to tie his woes to his having pitched 216 innings last year—the most ever for a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery—but his average fastball velocity is basically fine, sitting at just under 95 mph for the season. What’s clear something is happening to him during the second and especially the third time through the order:
This could be a fatigue problem, but his fastball velocity doesn’t dip that much after his first time through the order. If the problem is in Harvey’s approach, he’d better find a fix sooner rather than later, because if things keep going like this, the Mets might be better off inventing a reason to get him on the DL.