Before Matt Harvey was sidelined with a partial UCL tear in his right elbow, he was performing at an elite, Cy Young-caliber, level in 2013. He was 9-5 with a 2.27 E.R.A and 191 strikeouts over 178.1 innings pitched to that point in August. Harvey finished fourth in votes for the 2013 N.L Cy Young Award.
Fast-forward eighteen months and one Tommy John surgery later, Matt Harvey begins Mets spring training in preparation for his return to the majors this April.
Can Matt Harvey pick up where he left off as one of the brightest young arms in baseball?
The simple answer is yes; there is reason to believe Harvey will be that good again. However, the numbers also imply that it could take some time.
According to an American Journal of Sports Medicine study that looked at 147 cases of Tommy John surgery from 1999 to 2011, a small increase in TJS recipients' success rate was found.
"Among the players , 29 (20%) failed to return to MLB competition, 19 (13%) returned only to active status (failing to appear in >= 10 games in a single season), and the remaining 99 (67%) returned to established play after surgery."
From what we know Harvey will be in that 67% majority, but what should we expect from him in terms of production?
Hardball Times writer Jeff Zimmerman found that Tommy John surgery does not help a pitcher increase velocity, but it does help limit the effects on aging.
According to Zimmerman's study, the "percentage difference between their pre-surgery projected performance and their actual performance" was the highest for the pitcher in their first season back. The first season averages an increase of 5.8% in E.R.A, 7.2% in HR/9, 5% in walks, and a 4.4% decrease in strikeouts.
After the first year, the statistics begin to stabilize quickly in every category except strikeouts due to the average decline in velocity.
The second season back averages a 0.6% increase in E.R.A, a 2% decrease in HR/9, a 0.7% increase in walks, and a 1.6% decrease in strikeouts. The third season averages a 0.2% increase in E.R.A, a 2.1% increase in HR/9, a 0.7% increase in walks, and a 0.9% decrease in strikeouts.
This data suggests that the pitcher returning will most likely see the biggest production difference in their first year back, but also that the pitcher will progress closer to their pre-surgery projected performance over those first two seasons.
We can expect Harvey's least impressive performance in 2015, but it should not be worth any major concern, especially because he's already begun throwing and has received positive feedback from his team this spring.
The New York Times reported that Harvey faced 'live' hitters for the first time in his rehab from Tommy John surgery this past Friday. Harvey threw a total of 40 pitches while the batters were not permitted to swing at his collection of fastballs, sliders, and change-ups. Mets manager Terry Collins presumed that Harvey’s last pitch traveled about 94 to 95 miles per hour, which is regular-season speed for him.
Mets captain David Wright told Harvey after the session that his release was similar to what he saw back in August of 2013.
“He felt like it was very similar, if not better, than before,” Harvey told the Times.
“The biggest thing was that it looked like the ball was coming out free and easy," said Wright.
"I was in compete mode," said Harvey. "I wasn't holding back."
The road for Matt Harvey continues here. His attitude and competitiveness to this point shows us that he is determined to be great once again and that nothing will stand in his way of getting there.