At age 28, Matt Harvey has hit a crossroads in his career.
Injuries have robbed the Dark Knight of the otherworldly stuff he first displayed as a rookie in 2012, then as the savior of a downtrodden franchise in 2013 and finally as a post-Tommy John surgery bulldog in the Mets’ World Series year of 2015.
Harvey’s ERAs from 2012-15 (he missed all of 2014): 2.73, 2.27, 2.71.
Harvey’s ERAs in 2016 and 2017: 4.86 and 5.25. Overall: 3.22.
In 2016, Harvey had season-ending surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome. This year, he hasn’t pitched since June 14 because of a stress injury in his right shoulder. He hopes to work his way back to a big-league mound before the end of 2017.
This is not how it was supposed to be when Harvey broke in. He was supposed to be the next Tom Seaver or Dwight Gooden, not the next Frank Lange or Bob Spade.
(Who are Frank Lange and Bob Spade? Answer below.)
How far has Harvey fallen? We can illustrate that with a fun tool called “Similarity Scores,” as presented by the website baseballreference.com.
Similarity scores, a creation of stats guru Bill James, are pretty much what they sound like — comparing one player to other players in history at their particular age.
In Harvey’s case, his age-based similarity scores tell the tale of where he was headed, where he is now and where he might end up.
In his age-24 season of 2013, when Harvey went 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 178[/DROPCAP] 1⁄3 innings and started the All-Star Game at Citi Field, the most similar pitcher was Ed Walsh, a Hall of Famer who went 195-126 with a 1.82 ERA from 1904-17 with the White Sox (plus four games at the end of his career with the Boston Braves). Walsh was elected to Cooperstown in 1946.
In his age-26 season of 2015, when Harvey went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA in the regular season and 2-0, 3.04 in four postseason starts, the most similar pitcher was Charles Gardner “Old Hoss’’ Radbourn. Old Hoss also is a Hall of Famer. Someone using his name also has a popular Twitter account (@OldHossRadbourn) that has nearly 76,000 followers and hilariously comments on the game of today.
Radbourn went 309-194 with a 2.68 ERA in an 11-year career from 1881-91. He was elected to Cooperstown in 1939.
But starting with the 2016 season, nobody has been comparing Harvey to Hall of Famers. The most similar pitcher to Harvey after his age-27 season, in which he went 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA, is a pitcher named “Cy” — but not Cy Young (who, by the way, never won a Cy Young Award).
No, the pitcher 27-year-old Harvey was most similar to was Cy Blanton, who in a nine-year career with the Pirates and Phillies from 1934-42 went 68-71 with a 3.55 ERA.
Blanton won 18 games as a rookie in 1935 and was a two-time All-Star. According to his Society for American Baseball Research bio page, Blanton tore ligaments in his elbow in 1939 and won only 12 games over the next four years before his career ended.
Blanton acquired the nickname “Cy” as a 21-year-old in 1930 when he was pitching for Class C Shawnee (Oklahoma) of the Western League, according to SABR.org. It was a common nickname at the time for a promising young hurler as a nod to Young, who won a major league-record 511 games in a 22-year career that ended in 1911.
The award that bears Young’s name first came into being in 1956, a year after Young’s death.
Will Harvey’s future include a Cy Young Award? Similarity scores offer some hope.
At this point, his most similar pitcher is teammate Jacob deGrom, who unlike Harvey is at the top of his game and could get some Cy Young votes this season. Harvey, meanwhile, gave up a run in one inning of his first rehab assignment with the Brooklyn Cyclones on Saturday night.
Baseball Reference’s current list of pitchers most similar to Harvey goes 10 deep. The other nine: Kyle Hendricks, Lange, Spade, Jake Thielman, Roger Nelson, Norwood Gibson, Rube Vickers, Slow Joe Doyle and Mark Fidrych.
The careers of deGrom and Hendricks are ongoing. The other eight, all long retired, had an average final career record of 27-26. Gibson won the most games: 34.
Harvey’s career record is 33-31. So far.