I’ve noticed a few people on Twitter urging caution about Matt Harvey, who makes what is likely to be his final start of 2012 tonight. And look, it is justified, for a pair of reasons: we haven’t seen him last a full season in the major leagues yet, and pitchers are at high risk to get hurt.
These seem like the same thing, but they’re not. He could fade, though the fact that he is dominating late in this season suggests stamina isn’t a problem. And naturally, injuries happen for lots of reasons, fatigue merely being one of them.
That said, I’m pretty bullish on Harvey. And I don’t put much stock in the idea that “second time around the league”, he’s likely to have any kind of serious regression in performance.
Let’s take a look at his contemporaries in strikeout rate, and how they debuted.
Harvey is at 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings, which for starting pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched in their first years, is sixth since 1901. So, in other words, wow.
The five ahead of Harvey: Kerry Wood, Stephen Strasburg, Dwight Gooden, Mark Prior, Hideo Nomo. The next five after Harvey are Yu Darvish, Bobby Witt, Cole Hamels, Jose DeLeon and Herb Score.
Of that group, obviously, it is impossible to say what Darvish did the next year, since his debut occurred in 2012, too. But of the other nine, here’s what happened next:
Wood (injured, missed whole season), Strasburg (dominated early, then missed most of season injured), Gooden (1985 Cy Young Award), Prior (All Star, third in NL Cy Young), Nomo (fourth in NL Cy Young), Witt (actually improved), Hamels (All Star, sixth in Cy Young), DeLeon (some regression), Score (All Star, improved command).
So let’s total it up: two injury casualties, six improves/dominant seasons, one regression.
The point is, pitchers who get swings and misses like Harvey don’t tend to suffer second time around. They tend to get even better, as long as they stay healthy.