2.00 FIP. 191 strikeouts in 178.1 innings. 1.56 BB/9. 6.0 fWAR. Fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. Starting the All-Star game. And then ... nothing. As if an elbow suddenly cried out in terror and was suddenly silenced. Matt Harvey's lost 2014 may not have caused a disturbance in the Force, but his return will certainly shake up the NL East. (Well, it won't make the Phillies contend, but not even Yoda could manage that.)
With the exception of 41-year-old Bartolo Colon, the Mets have a pretty young pitching staff. Behind Colon's team-leading 202.1 innings last year, the next four pitchers were 28-year-old Jon Niese, 24-year-old Zach Wheeler, 26-year-old Jacob deGrom, and 28-year-old Dillon Gee. Harvey, meanwhile, is entering his age-26 season, which will be his third time through the majors since debuting in 2012. While nobody can predict how he'll respond from Tommy John surgery, having four plus pitches (four-seam, slider, changeup, curve) is a solid recipe for success. Pretty much his only trouble spot is leaving balls middle-in to right-handers, as evidenced by the zone profile below.
His repertoire is solid everywhere else. Here he is making Domonic Brown look foolish on a first-inning changeup:
Here he is doing it again three innings later:
And for good measure, here's Harvey mixing it up and getting Brown to bite on a down-and-in curve:
Yeah, Domonic Brown was one of the worst players in baseball last year, but back in 2013 he was still a high-upside outfielder who put up a 123 wRC+ in 139 games. Plus, that three-strikeout sequence doesn't showcase what is arguably Harvey's most potent weapon: a slider that touches 94 at times and induced whiffs nearly 18% of the time he threw it in 2013. Pairing such a sharp slider with a fadeaway changeup and 12-6 curve makes for quite the arsenal, and Harvey used it to great effect before his elbow gave out on August 24, 2013.
If Harvey returns to form (or even a lesser semblance of it), the Mets will be poised to contend for second place in an NL East that's wide open after the Nationals. Niese has been consistently decent and durable over the last five years, averaging 170.1 innings and 1.8 fWAR in that span. deGrom, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, was one of the biggest surprises of 2014, and only seemed to get better as the year went along, putting up a 2.04 second-half FIP after posting a 3.24 mark before the break.
Now, the Mets are certainly not without their troubles, what with David Wright coming off arguably his worst season. Even with his down year, he still leads the team in terms of Steamer projections (though deGrom leads the team in hair). As I mentioned above, though, they have a pretty good chance of finishing second in the NL East. The Marlins have Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez (maybe), and not much else; the Braves' offense will consist of Freddie Freeman, and the Phillies are a whole new level of awful. Who knows, the Mets could sneak into a wild-card spot if the Cubs' prospects don't pan out and the Padres' bevy of free agent moves backfires. And if the Force is with them.
. . .