“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
It has to be fate. It’s simply the only explanation as to how the best way to describe Matt Harvey’s Mets career in one sentence is a quote from the movie where: a) he earned his nickname from and b) the quote comes from a character with the first name Harvey. It doesn’t end there though, because as you might have guessed, Matt Harvey and Harvey Dent both have extremely similar career arcs as well. Dent’s a good guy for about 40 minutes of the movie before an accident (injury) turns him into a villain. Matt Harvey was incredible, undoubtedly one of the best pitchers in all of baseball from 2012-2015, before injuries took a toll and sapped him of his powers. The Mets built Matt Harvey up so high at the peak of his powers and then had no idea what to do when he couldn’t live up to the name.
After making just 10 starts for the team in 2012, Harvey’s first full season with the Mets came a year later in 2013. He threw 178.1 innings while striking out 191 hitters and was practically unhittable the entire season, as evidenced by his 2.27 ERA and 2.07 DRA. It was a meteoric rise for Harvey, from top prospect full of potential to one of the biggest stars in New York, and no one, besides maybe Harvey himself, knew just how big he’d become. Harvey had it all in 2013: he was the starter for the NL in the All-Star game, got his own Sports Illustrated cover, and even showed he could have a little fun with his hit appearance on Jimmy Fallon. It sounds crazy on the surface, but 2013 Matt Harvey was 2017 Aaron Judge.
Think about it: both Harvey and Judge experienced a fascinating and unexpected rise to stardom in the most sports craved city in the world. Every Harvey start was must-see TV, just like every Judge at-bat was last season. Every fifth day was “Harvey Day” just like every Judge home run had its own moniker, “All Rise.” Matt Harvey brought star power to the Mets and captured the attention of everyone, non-baseball fans included, and Judge did the same for the Yankees last season. It’s hard to believe considering all the negative media attention surrounding Harvey now, but he was the darling of New York before Judge was even in the Yankees system. Although both men were first-round picks with expectations to become major leaguers, the Mets and Yankees would be lying if they said they knew they were both going to be this good. There was no bigger star in New York in 2013 than Harvey; even Yankee fans were enamored with the ultra-competitive righthander with electric stuff. The Mets finally had a star on the level of past greats, one who seemed destined to spend his entire career with the Mets and become the best homegrown pitcher since Doc Gooden. Then it all came crashing down.
First came the torn UCL and ensuing Tommy John surgery that robbed Harvey of the entire 2014 season. Tommy John surgery used to be a death sentence for a pitcher, but recent medical advances have allowed players to return to almost exactly the same form they showed prior to injury. Harvey was no exception, as he held a 2.71 ERA across 189.1 innings to go along with 188 strikeouts and looked like the ace of old. Teams are usually cautious to overwork a pitcher coming off an arm injury, but the Mets rode Harvey to a World Series appearance and allowed him to throw an additional 26.2 innings during postseason play. Harvey was on the verge of a legendary performance in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, but he asked to start the ninth inning and allowed an Eric Hosmer double that would score Lorenzo Cain and put the tying run on base. No one can know for sure if Harvey’s extreme usage in 2015 caused the myriad of injuries and inconsistent performance in the years to follow, but we can say for certain that he was never the same afterward.
Harvey didn’t look right to begin the 2016 season — his average fastball velocity was down about a mile per hour and his results were significantly un-Harvey like. With a 4.86 ERA in only 92.2 innings, the Mets shut him down and placed him on the DL with a right shoulder injury. What we didn’t know at the time was that Harvey lost the feeling sensation in his right hand and was unable to properly grip and feel a baseball anymore. Harvey elected to undergo Thoracic Outlet surgery to correct his problem, a surgery with a much lower success rate than Tommy John.
From the minute he went under the knife in 2016, it was clear to the organization and the fanbase that Harvey was never going to be the same. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome has robbed many pitchers of their once promising careers and Harvey was the latest in line. Gone were the days when Matt Harvey captivated an entire city with his appearances. Keeping with our Aaron Judge comparison, it’d be like Judge suddenly shrinking six inches during an offseason. Imagine if Aaron Judge couldn’t hit home runs anymore. How valuable of a player would he become? It’s exactly what happened to Harvey, who lost his velocity and ability to command his pitches through no fault of his own.
It’s easy to look back on Matt Harvey’s Mets career and be upset at how it eventually unfolded, but chalk that up to bad injury luck; don’t blame Matt Harvey because he wasn’t the friendliest guy in the clubhouse. One of the fiercest and most competitive athletes in a city full of them, Harvey stood taller than them all once upon a time. He went from one of, if not the, most celebrated athletes in New York to the entire fan base clamoring and celebrating his release from the organization in only five years. Matt Harvey was the hero the Mets needed in 2012, a sense of hope for an organization that had none. Like Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight though, the pitcher was a Met long enough to see himself become a villain, wearing out his welcome as soon as he lost his effectiveness in the eyes of the fanbase. A sensational rise to the top followed by a remarkable fall to the bottom, Matt Harvey had it all, until he didn’t.
Photo credit: Noah K. Murray – USA Today Sports