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Harvey Draws Clemens Comparisons as Fastball Bewilders Batters

Photographer: Elsa/Getty Images

Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York on April 24, 2013. Close

Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch in the first inning against the... Read More

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Photographer: Elsa/Getty Images

Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York on April 24, 2013.

New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey’s performances are becoming can’t-miss for Major League Baseball fans because his fastball is almost can’t-hit.

Harvey, the second-year right-hander who is 4-0 this season heading into tonight’s start at the Miami Marlins, has batters swinging and missing his top pitch a major league-best 35 percent of the time, based on Bloomberg Sports data through April 25. Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers ranks second in whiff percentage, as the statistic is called, at 22.2 percent, and the following eight pitchers range from 21.8 percent to 20.5 percent.

Harvey’s fastball averages 94.76 miles per hour, trailing only the 95.57 mph pitch of the Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg’s whiff percentage, at 12.6 percent, ranks 48th out of 93 pitchers who have thrown at least 200 fastballs.

“I have not seen a power right-handed pitcher that throws above 95 miles per hour command his fastball as well as Harvey since Roger Clemens,” said Mitch Williams, a former major league All-Star. “Right now, for me, he’s the best pitcher in the game.”

Clemens won a record seven Cy Young Awards as his league’s best pitcher during a career that spanned 1984-2007. His 354 wins rank ninth in major league history.

A comparison of the two pitchers’ first 15 career starts shows Harvey with more early success than Clemens, who went 5-4 with a 5.02 earned run average, 74 strikeouts and 17 walks, allowing batters to hit .309. Harvey, making 10 starts last season and five in 2013, is 7-5 with a 2.29 ERA, 109 strikeouts and 36 walks, allowing opponents to hit .172.

Better Ratings

Harvey’s hot start this season has yielded 14 percent higher television ratings for SportsNet New York, the Mets’ broadcast partner, when he pitches as compared with other games, according to the network. TV ratings for adults in the 25-54 age range have risen 35 percent when Harvey starts, even though one of those outings came April 19 while many viewers were focused on the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers.

Harvey, 24, was drafted with the seventh pick by the Mets in 2010 out of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Williams, an analyst for MLB Network who pitched in the majors from 1986-97, said in a phone interview that he began the Clemens comparisons with Harvey’s first outing last season because of his confidence.

“When the hitter looks out to the mound, he ain’t seeing any question marks on Harvey’s face,” Williams said. “Harvey knows what he’s going to do and he knows the hitter can’t beat him and, trust me, hitters pick up on that.”

Fewer Fastballs

Harvey has relied less on the fastball this season than last, using it 57.9 percent of the time compared with 65.3 percent in 2012. He also throws a slider, curveball and changeup.

“His slider is outstanding,” Williams said the day after Harvey’s latest outing, a six-inning no-decision against the Los Angeles Dodgers in which he gave up three earned runs. “Up until last night, his curveball and his changeup were just show- me pitches. Last night he used some good curveballs to put guys away and threw some outstanding changeups.”

Harvey’s sophomore season continues tonight against the Marlins and opposing pitcher Jose Fernandez, and he’s bringing a trio of pitching weapons with him to Miami, said Williams.

“There is nothing in this game more dangerous than youth, confidence and stuff,” Williams said. “He’s got all three.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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