Young aces Harvey, Strasburg on display in Queens as Mets host Nats
If you watch just one game this weekend, make it Friday night’s matchup of the Mets and Nationals in Queens, which pits the best young pitcher in baseball against Stephen Strasburg.
That’s right, New York’s Matt Harvey, Washington’s opponent Friday night, and not Strasburg, is the best young pitcher in baseball. At least he has been thus far this season, and it’s not as though he came out of nowhere. Harvey was the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft out of the University of North Carolina, and the 25th best prospect in baseball a year ago according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. Harvey joined the Mets’ rotation last July and struck out 11 men in 5 1/3 scoreless innings in his major league debut and finished the year with a 2.73 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings across his first 10 major league starts.
After three starts this year, Harvey has allowed just two runs and six hits in 22 innings while striking out 25 and leads the National League in adjusted ERA (474) and WHIP (0.55), and is tied for the major league lead in wins (3). In his young major league career, the 24-year-old has posted a 2.21 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and struck out 10.5 men per nine innings. What’s more, per the Elias Sports Bureau, dating back to his final start in 2012, he has become the first pitcher in the modern era (since 1900) with four consecutive starts of at least seven innings in which he has allowed no more than three hits or one run.
As for Old Man Strasburg, who is also 24 but eight months older than Harvey, he was lit up by the Reds two starts ago, allowing six runs on nine hits and four walks in 5 1/3 innings, and he gave up five runs in three innings to the Marlins in his final start of 2012.
That’s not to say that Strasburg isn’t still one of the most exciting young pitchers in baseball, but that Harvey has quickly ascended to his level, and given the fact that these two are effectively the same age and pitch in the same division, this could be our first look at a pitching rivalry that could become a signature for the remainder of the decade.
The similarities between the two don’t end with their age and division. Both are 6-foot-4 righthanders with classic pitcher’s builds. Both were advanced college prospects drafted early in the first round, and both are power pitchers. Strasburg, of course, is known for his upper-90s velocity. Though he shed a couple of miles per hour off his fastball in the wake of his Tommy John surgery, the pitch is still averaging 96.5 mph per BrooksBaseball.net. Harvey isn’t far behind, with an average fastball velocity of 95.2 mph through his first three starts this season.
Their repertoires do differ beyond the fastball, however. Strasburg’s curve and changeup, the latter of which is as fast as some pitchers’ fastballs at 88-89 mph, are equally effective, while Harvey’s hard slider, which also falls in that 88-89 mph range, is clearly superior to his mid-80s changeup, and his curve is a seldom-used show-me pitch. That said, the progress of Harvey’s changeup has been key to his emergence, and Mark Simon of ESPN New York reported after his last start that opposing hitters are just 1-for-29 with a walk against all three of Harvey’s offspeed pitches this season.
Harvey will obviously have his struggles in the major leagues, as Strasburg now has, but both should be fun to watch both Friday night and beyond. Whenever they face off, it will be essential viewing.