Here in this corner of Newsday, we're not huge fans of innings limits.
As Sandy Alderson has been known to say, "there's no science" that proves innings limits help prevent injuries. Yet the Mets' general manager believes in them and practices them with his young pitchers, as most teams do.
Having said that, if there's one pitcher on the Mets who should have his innings watched, it's Matt Harvey. The Dark Knight is in his first season after Tommy John surgery. It would be foolhardy to expect him to throw 250 innings or so, which is about what an ace would pitch if he made every start and his team went deep into the postseason, as the Mets hope they will.
That's why it was interesting to listen to Harvey talk about "saving bullets" after his last start on Tuesday against Colorado. He wasn't talking about innings, but pitches. He indicated he is trying to throw fewer pitches per at-bat (which means fewer strikeouts) so he can last longer in games.
It's a little counterintuitive, because if Harvey throws fewer pitches but more innings per game, he will deplete his innings limits more quickly. The hope is that the stress of those innings will be lessened if he goes for early contact rather than the late punch out.
"At this point, when your innings start getting up that high, the biggest thing is throwing strikes and not putting runners on base," said Harvey, who has thrown 148 innings in 22 starts going into Sunday's outing against Pittsburgh. "I don't mind the quick first-pitch groundouts to shortstop or whatnot. That gets you into the late innings of a game. For me, it's really just trying to mix things up and attack the zone as much as I can."
Is it working? To a degree, yes. Harvey's pitches per start, pitches per at-bat and strikeouts per nine innings are down from 2013, his last season before surgery. So is his effectiveness, but only slightly. It seems like a fair trade-off if it keeps him on the mound deep into the fall.
"To be honest, I think it's a good formula for any pitcher, to save bullets," manager Terry Collins said. "If you have Matt's kind of stuff, he's pretty hard to get centered up anyway. If you've got some movement, you can get some ground balls, get some easy outs."
Harvey's ground-ball percentage actually is down slightly, according to PitchFX data on the website FanGraphs.com. In 2013, it was 47.7 percent. This year, it's 44.6 percent.
In 2013, Harvey made 26 starts, the final one on Aug. 24. He went 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA, struck out 9.6 per nine innings and averaged 103.5 pitches per start and 3.9 pitches per at-bat.
This season, Harvey is 11-7 with a 2.61 ERA. He has struck out 8.2 per nine innings and has averaged 97.5 pitches per start and 3.7 pitches per at-bat. His ratio of strikeouts per nine innings is third among Mets starters, behind Noah Syndergaard (9.5) and Jacob deGrom (9.3).
Harvey has averaged about 62/3 innings per outing in both seasons.
The biggest difference in Harvey's repertoire this season is his use of the two-seam or sinking fastball, a pitch that is designed to get quick outs.
In 2013, Harvey threw his two-seamer only 2 percent of the time. He threw his four-seam fastball -- the one pitchers love to blow past hitters -- 58 percent of the time.
This season, Harvey has thrown his two-seamer 15 percent of the time and his four-seamer is down to 51 percent. His use of his other pitches (slider, curve, changeup) has dipped slightly.
In his last start, Harvey threw eight shutout innings against Colorado. If he had been less effective, he would have thrown fewer innings. That's not what the Mets want, regardless of what it means for the stretch run and potential postseason. It's a conundrum, for sure.
Harvey was ahead only 1-0 going to the bottom of the eighth. Collins later said he was going to take out Harvey because of innings limits, not his pitch count. That the Mets scored three more runs in the eighth and went on to a 4-0 victory made the point moot, but Harvey still was asked about having to leave games he's dominating because of innings limits.
"Certainly the big picture is going through September and into October," he said. "When we get down to the stretch here, there's probably going to be some more issues like that where I don't want to come out at all. No pitcher at that point wants to. But it is what it is. At this point, you have to keep [innings limits] out of your head. Keep your head down and keep going."