Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey meet this Thursday for their first starts of the season. The two hurlers have a lot in common. Both are 26 years old, were drafted out of college in the first round, stand 6'4", and throw right-handed. They also have similar pitch repertoires. Both rely primarily on a high-nineties four-seam fastball, a change that clocks about 10 mph slower, and a hard curve. The biggest difference in their repertoire is that Harvey throws a 90 mph slider while Strasburg regularly mixes in a hard sinker.
Stras and Harvey also each plunged baseball fans into an acute case of ace withdrawal by way of Tommy John surgery. Perhaps the biggest difference between them is their choice of surgeon, with Harvey going Hollywood, choosing the face of TJ surgery in Dr. Andrews, while Strasburg kept it real, choosing Dr. Yocum.
Prior to their surgeries, Strasburg and Harvey dominated the Senior Circuit. The season after he was drafted, Strasburg proved himself in a short minor league stint before joining the big club. The baseball world stood still for his début and each successive start as he posted otherworldly velocity and strikeout totals. While all good things come to an end, Strasburg's run was particularly short lived. He lasted a too-brief 68.0 innings before being shut down with UCL damage. Harvey, on the other hand, pitched 245.2 minor league innings before appearing with the Mets. He also lasted nearly a season longer in The Show before being shut down and finally consenting to Tommy John surgery.
Strasburg went under the knife on September 3, 2010. He was the archetype for TJ recovery, returning almost exactly 12 months later, making 5 short starts with the Nats down the stretch in 2011. Harvey had his surgery early in the 2013 offseason, and despite his objections, was given the next full season to rehab, a decision which may bode well for a full recovery. Harvey approached his rehab with the same dogged determination and, frankly, disregard for his employers' wishes, that he brings to all his off-field activities. Strasburg graciously offered Harvey some unsolicited advice (via the New York Post), cautioning him to 'take it slow' and to take the long view of his rehab, as it can be a mercurial endeavour.
Since returning from surgery, Strasburg has remained an elite starter, posting an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio and a sub-3.00 FIP. Harvey himself has looked strong this spring, posting a 25% K% and walking just one in 22.2 IP. By regaining his control so soon after surgery, it appears that Harvey is primed and ready to return to appointment viewing status.
Clearly, Fangraphs' Steamer projection system also recognized the similarities that I've noted between the two pitchers. Other than Strasburg pitching a handful more innings, their projections for 2015 are almost mirror images of each other.
So how will the two fare in their match up? Strasburg and Harvey have faced off once before, on April 19th, 2013 at Citi Field, but we can hardly draw much from a single outing. Instead, we'll turn to Predictive Game Scores, the brain-child of our own Michael Bradburn. His formula predicts a game score 93 for Strasburg and a staggering 104 for Harvey. These are the second and third highest predictive game scores of the season, behind Kershaw, making this an early candidate for best pitchers' duel of the season. The biggest question will be whether Harvey can pick up where he left off in 2013.
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Matt Jackson is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacksontaigu.