On-Base Perception

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Matt Harvey more than worthy of All-Star Game start

Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey watches from the

Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey watches from the dugout during the eight inning of the first game of a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves. (June 18, 2013) (Credit: AP)

Forget the fact that Citi Field is Matt Harvey’s stadium.

Forget that the Mets’ phenom has taken the baseball landscape by storm.

Focus simply on this: Harvey should start the All-Star Game because he’s the best pitcher in the National League so far this season.

Of course, there are several legitimate candidates in the conversation. Pittsburgh’s Jeff Locke has a 2.06 ERA. Arizona’s Patrick Corbin is 9-0 with a 2.22 ERA. Washington’s Jordan Zimmerman is 12-3 with a 2.46 ERA.

Advanced metrics, however, suggest all three of these starters are pitching over their heads and that their ERA doesn’t necessarily reflect their skills.

Locke, Zimmerman and Corbin — none of whom were the most heralded pitcher on their own staff to start the season — have each had an impressive emergence. But if we’re selecting purely the most qualified starter, and not the most qualified story, there are better candidates.

The debate tends to come down to three pitchers: Harvey (7-1, 2.00 ERA, 138 Ks), Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright (11-5, 2.22 ERA, 114 Ks) and Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (6-5, 2.08 ERA, 118 Ks.

To say that Harvey should start is not a knock against any of those other great pitchers, who all have performances worthy of taking the mound in Flushing on July 16.

But Harvey is a different beast.

His 2.00 ERA and 10.15 strikeouts per nine innings leads all NL starters. The more stat-obsessed crowd will point out that ERA can be misleading and may prefer to look at Fielding Independent Pitching (an ERA-like number taking into account only controllable factors: walks, home runs and strikeouts). Harvey leads the pack in FIP, too, at 1.99. Even xFIP, another variation that normalizes home run rates, has Harvey at the head of the class at 2.64.

SIERA, yet another advanced stat that tries to give us a better idea of skill than ERA also has Harvey leading at 2.64. Wainwright is second at 2.84.

Harvey’s 0.85 WHIP leads the senior circuit. Next best is Zimmerman at 0.94. His strikeout to walk ratio, a superb 5.5, is second only to Wainwright’s phenomenal 9.5.

More traditional fans may point to Wainwright’s 11 wins as a reason he should start over Harvey, who has only seven.

But anyone who’s watched Harvey pitch this year knows he could have had far more than seven victories. Wins have become a less important stat in evaluating a pitcher’s performance — just look at Felix Hernandez who in 2010 won the AL Cy Young Award with a .520 winning percentage (13-12, 2.27 ERA, 232 strikeouts in 249 2/3 innings).

Earlier this season, Harvey allowed just one hit in nine shutout innings against the White Sox – and received a no-decision. Last Friday, he exited after allowing one run in seven innings with the Mets leading 4-1. The bullpen blew the lead (and eventually the game), sending another potential win down the drain.

Harvey receives an average of 3.9 runs per game, tied for 38th in the NL. Wainwright gets 5.2 runs on average every time he starts, for example.

Harvey has taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning three times this season. He’s only received a win in two of those games, against Minnesota and Atlanta.

As good as Wainwright or Kershaw have been, Harvey mastery on the mound is something that hasn’t been seen around baseball in quite some time.

And viewers deserve to see it starting on July 16.

Tags: Matt Harvey , Mets , All-Star Game , Adam Wainwright , Clayton Kershaw

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