(Photo Credit: REUTERS/NOAH K. MURRAY)
The New York Mets finally cut some dead weight yesterday when they dealt struggling right-hander and former ace Matt Harvey to the Cincinnati Reds for injury-prone catcher Devin Mesoraco. The move came just days after Harvey was designated for assignment by the Mets after he refused an assignment to Triple-A Las Vegas to work on his pitching issues. This refusal came weeks after losing his spot in the starting rotation and being relegated to the bullpen due to poor performance.
Cincinnati can now look forward to a righty who has had operations for both Tommy John surgery and thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS), has posted an atrocious ERA of 7.00 in eight appearances (four starts) across 27 innings of work. The time is now for the 29-year-old to reinvent himself but given the state of the Reds, not to mention Harvey himself, this move could wind up doing more harm than good.
What helps Harvey is that the Reds are a team with absolutely nothing to play for in 2018. Cincinnati is 9-27 on the year and already fired Bryan Price as manager last month, so Harvey is now on a team seeking to wipe its slate clean and start fully from scratch compared to the Mets, who could have a shot at the playoffs come October. This means Harvey can take the rest of the season to work on reinventing himself as a pitcher, something pitching coach Danny Darwin can help him with so long as the righty is open to some constructive criticism.
This leads the conversation to Harvey's continued insistence that he is a starting pitcher despite having lost the velocity that made him a household name. If he wants to be a starter, he has to accept that his fastball will top out around 92-92 miles per hour (per FanGraphs) and he must adjust his work on the mound accordingly. Trying to just blow hitters away and mow them down with strikeouts is no longer an option. He must now try to make like New York Yankees veteran lefty CC Sabathia and beat hitters by pitching to contact and inducing ground balls and/or weak contact.
Look at it this way. Elbow surgery to remove a bone spur in 2012 caused Sabathia to lose his velocity, and that combined with what turned out to be an arthritic right knee led to him going 23-27 with a 4.81 ERA from 2013 to 2015. He started wearing a knee brace at the end of 2015 and that combined with his newfound ability to become a ground ball pitcher instead of a strikeout pitcher has him being looked at in a brand new light.
(Photo Credit: REUTERS/NOAH K. MURRAY)
From 2016 up through today, Sabathia has posted a 3.59 ERA and is 2-0 with a 1.39 ERA this season as one of New York's most reliable pitchers. His average ground ball rate (GB%) over that stretch has been a highly respectable 47.6%, above his career mark of 45.9%. That said, Harvey is more than capable of reinventing himself as a pitcher in the vein of Sabathia and reestablishing himself in the "Dark Knight" persona that took New York by storm in 2015.
It's just a matter of him getting out of his own way and accepting his new reality.
The major downside of the trade is what I just said. Harvey is so committed to recapturing his glory days with the Mets and doesn't care who he alienates in the process. This trade to baseball's worst team should be a wake-up call to him and his ego. The Reds traded for him on the cheap and if he doesn't keep himself in check or show commitment to reinventing himself as a pitcher, let alone show general improvement in whatever role he has, he will be non-tendered at season's end and become a free agent. That's good news for the Reds but given how stacked next year's class is, Harvey looking for a new team could prove tough.
There is also Great American Ballpark to consider. The stadium is far smaller and more hitter-friendly than Citi Field, where Harvey posted a 6.75 ERA this year. If he was that bad in a pitcher's park, just imagine how hard he'll be hit at Great American. It's almost as though Harvey is being set up to hit absolute statistical rock bottom just so he can understand he must change his approach to pitching.
The onus is now on Harvey to make a change. He can either keep living in his Dark Knight fantasy world and run himself out of MLB, or he can use this trade as a learning experience and give pitching to contact a shot. He has the tools to do so but given how he has conducted himself the past month, this trade to Cincinnati seems more likely to hurt him than it would help him.