What’s NOT Wrong with Matt Harvey and How To Fix What Is

Mets pitcher Matt Harvey pitching motion at max external rotation

Tonight Matt Harvey faces Stephen Strasburg. Normally that would be an exciting sentence for Mets fans, Nationals fans — heck, baseball fans in general. Instead, it’s a sentence that makes Mets fans cringe.

Why? Because Matt Harvey is a mess (at least, that’s how The New York Post describes it). And the headline is apt — Harvey admits

“I’m just not feeling comfortable throwing a baseball right now, so it’s frustrating.”

So what’s his problem? How can it be fixed?

Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen has offered multiple theories during Harvey’s struggles, such as “pressing, “trying to throw too hard,” and a mechanical flaw from the stretch position. That last flaw evolved into a mysterious tweak involving the back leg. Still, Harvey continued to struggle.

Most recently, Warthen identified and dismissed as a flaw Harvey’s higher release point / arm slot.

All the while, Mets manager Terry Collins has remained as befuddled as everyone else, but has been consistent with his own theory — that Harvey’s struggles this year are related to last year’s workload.

From The New York Post (emphasis mine):

“There’s a thing about where his arm slot is. It’s gotten a little higher this year actually, which tells you there’s nothing wrong with his arm because if his shoulder was bothering him at all, he wouldn’t be able to get it up higher,” Collins said. “But it’s higher than it’s been in the past. Does that mean there’s a velocity change? I don’t know. I still think it’s the fact his arm is still recuperating from 210 innings [in 2015]. I know he’s working hard at it.”

So what the heck is wrong with Matt Harvey?

Let’s first go over what it’s NOT.

It’s NOT his arm slot. Well, that’s not entirely true. The SYMPTOM very well could be the arm slot, but it’s not the root cause.

It’s NOT the 2015 workload. It amazes me that professional sports people, who have medical and training staffs around them on a daily basis, come to this conclusion. What happened last year was last year. A pitcher whose last pitch came on November 1st had — let’s count ’em — all of November + all of December + all of January, which equals 3 months to recover. We’re not even counting the two weeks in February prior to pitchers and catchers reporting. If we go to the ASMI rest and recovery guidelines, a pitcher who throws over 76 pitches needs four days of rest. Three months is 120 days’ rest. Bottom line? Harvey was recovered from 2015. Wear and tear from a season does not linger into the following season unless there is a medical problem, such as an injury. That’s not theory nor guesswork, it’s science. If Harvey had an injury last November, it would be surprising, since he was averaging 96 MPH with pinpoint control in his World Series start. And if he DID suffer an injury after that game, shame on him for not doing something about it during the winter.

It’s NOT pitching from the stretch. Looking at video from both the windup and the stretch, Harvey’s flaw is consistent.

It’s NOT his back leg — NOT EXACTLY. But Dan Warthen is really, really close. And congratulations to Warthen for having that eye, because putting Dan Warthen — or any pitching coach — into the situation of analyzing and troubleshooting pitching mechanics is absolutely unfair. The pitching motion is a body movement. Body movement is studied and researched by scientists. It is called kinesiology. It also involves deep understanding of anatomy as well as physics. Dan Warthen, like all MLB pitching coaches, knows baseball. He knows situations. He knows pitches. He knows the mental game. But he, like all MLB pitching coaches, does not have the background nor the deep understanding of body movement necessary to troubleshoot pitching mechanics. Asking pitching coaches to do so is a fatal flaw by MLB organizations. It’s kind of like asking the team trainer to perform Tommy John surgery — he may have some medical background, but not the DEPTH of understanding, nor the training, to do it.

Once in a while, a pitching coach makes a tweak that results in better performance. When that happens, it’s kind of like Inspector Clouseau solving a crime — he’s rather lucky to have stumbled upon it, and though he’s confident that the mystery is solved, he really isn’t entirely sure how.

What would be great is if MLB teams employed a pitching motion troubleshooter to assist pitching coaches — a person with a full understanding and background in body movement and the pitching motion specifically. Those people DO exist.

Which brings us back to Matt Harvey’s flaw. It has to do with his back FOOT, which is resulting in his losing his balance just at the point of what’s called “max external rotation.” I’m NOT the one who found this — a scientist did.

If you want to know exactly what the flaw is, and why it’s contributing to Harvey’s struggles, listen below. And if science’s role in the pitching motion interests you, consider subscribing to The Fix podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. DanS May 19, 2016 at 12:18 pm
    “putting Dan Warthen — or any pitching coach — into the situation of analyzing and troubleshooting pitching mechanics is absolutely unfair. The pitching motion is a body movement. Body movement is studied and researched by scientists. It is called kinesiology. It also involves deep understanding of anatomy as well as physics. ” The most interesting part of the piece. Is there any MLB organization addressing these issues. Will the pitching coach of the future have to have these skills or will technique and science be split between coaches? I have no idea of how to evaluate Warthen’s troubleshooting abilities. How many Mets pitchers have improved or solved nagging problems under his instruction? It seems like coaches like Maddux or Searage get more results, but I’d be happy to be wrong.
    • Joe Janish May 19, 2016 at 4:50 pm
      To my knowledge there are no MLB organizations employing someone who is qualified to assist pitching coaches troubleshoot the pitching motion. I do know for certain that many clubs are using biomechanical analysis offered by 3P/ASMI/Rick Peterson. However, those analytics are fairly useless in the hands of a lay person such as a pitching coach. It’s kind of like going to the car dealership, having them do a 50-point inspection, and then handing you a 30-page document explaining all the things wrong with your car but not fixing anything — interesting, but since you’re not a trained mechanic, the engine is still knocking, the shocks are worn out, and the brakes need replacing.

      Maddux, Searage, and others fall into the Inspector Clouseau category. Maybe they have some surface knowledge of body movement, or a natural “feel” for the discipline, along with a great ability to teach and a bit of luck. Consider, also, that a pitching coach’s main responsibility is to extract performance from his pitchers (i.e. “results” or good stats), and it’s entirely possible that whatever tweaks they make can be helpful toward success on the mound in the short-term but may not address harmful flaws that affect the pitcher’s health over the long-term (example, in Searage’s case, Francisco Liriano). MLB pitchers are elite, world-class athletes, so if they can simply repeat their delivery — regardless of how inefficient or harmful it is — their athleticism can lead to success. It’s exactly how you explain pitchers like Matt Harvey (and many others) being dominant despite a mechanical flaw that caused his UCL tear.

      It works the same way with hitters. Someone like Hunter Pence looks like he’s doing everything wrong, yet somehow gets results. The difference is that, generally speaking, hitters don’t injure themselves from bad swing mechanics.

      • Dan42 May 20, 2016 at 5:49 am
        I think you just nailed the main problem, the team trying to extract short term performance, along with a “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. Problem is they don’t know when it’s broke until it’s too late, and the ones that might know there will be a problem aren’t in a position to do anything, or are unwilling to attempt a change that might hurt performance, albeit only temporary.

        Hitter injuries happen too, but I doubt there is much analysis done to determine the cause.

  2. Colin May 20, 2016 at 9:14 am
    One thing is for sure, he looks like someone addicted to opioids. No fire, no passion.
    Need three good, long starts from Matz, deGrom, and the Viking to stop this bleeding and right the ship.

    As a reminder (to myself more than anyone else) its only May.

    Great stuff, Joe.

  3. DanB May 21, 2016 at 10:59 am
    Joe, you mentioned that pitching coaches can focus on the”mental” game but don’t most teams have team psychologists available to them? If a pitching coach can work with a psychologist to improve mental approaches, why don’t they feel comfortable working with a kinesiologist? I see the pitching coach more as the leader of a group of specialists bringing a game plan together rather than the only specialist.
  4. DaveSchneck May 21, 2016 at 2:56 pm
    Mr. Janish,
    Nice to hear from you once again. If the Madduxes and Warthens of the world are Inspector Clouseaus of the world, then that places me in the neighborhood of a Neanderthal. Like you, I am a proponent of science, but I am not certain that the hangover effect from last season’s workload can be ruled out. Does the science that you refer to regarding recovery times have studies that are specific to pitchers that have had TJ surgery?
    • David Berg May 21, 2016 at 3:15 pm
      I suspect the hangover effect isn’t literal fatigue, but is more akin to what I wrote about here with Maddux in 1998 — minor injuries which can be pitched through and do go away, but leave a permanent mark on the athlete.

      I know that, personally, at the end of a long season, my throwing mechanics are always different as I compensate for a sore shoulder or knee. The throws themselves are still good enough to play, and in favorable conditions you’d never know the difference, but I’ve definitely sacrificed a little velocity and gotten sore in weird places and developed bad habits and on and on. After the season’s over, next time I get back on the field, sometimes something clicks and everything just feels great and refreshed; other times, not so much, and I can’t always figure out what’s wrong.

      I am not a pro athlete, but from hearing the pros talk, I get the impression they go through the same thing. A longer season just means more time to develop aches and pains and harmful motions to compensate, some of which get fixed and some of which don’t.

      • Joe Janish May 23, 2016 at 5:02 pm
        Agree with Dave here, and as mentioned in the post —

        “Wear and tear from a season does not linger into the following season unless there is a medical problem, such as an injury.”

        If there was an injury suffered by Harvey, shame on him for not getting it looked at and/or figured out during the winter. But again, as of November 1, 2015, Matt Harvey was averaging 96 MPH on his fastball and topping out a hair under 99 (98.7 MPH to be exact). He also had pinpoint control that evening. If he had been throwing in the low 90s that night or was having trouble locating, I might consider a physical condition. But he was pitching as well as he’d ever had in his life, and 120 days’ rest should have been plenty to get him back to where he was.

        Rest and recovery guidelines are based primarily on the way the muscles, tendons, and ligaments recover from stress. Some (not all) of the research, I believe, involves cadavers. A pitcher with TJ surgery conceivably has a “new” UCL so the recovery time *should* be the same. But little of this matters when MLB pitchers blatantly ignore the rules.

        DaveSchneck, I’m curious — why are you thinking about the “hangover effect” when the exact problem has been identified? It isn’t a theory that trying to pitch on one leg is difficult, and it’s not a guess by a lay person that Harvey is doing something differently now vs. last year. This came from a sport kinesiologist who spends all day, every day, troubleshooting pitchers’ mechanics.

        There are plenty of photos from last year and this year to compare and see the problem. You can see a bit more here: http://fixingpitchers.com/podcast/matt-harveys-mechanical-flaw-fix/

        • DaveSchneck May 23, 2016 at 10:36 pm
          My thought/comment wasn’t to challenge the cause as identified by the expert and explained by your words. Is “the hangover” contributing to his foot mechanics to be off? Is the “hangover” from the TJ surgery? Is it from exceeding 200 innings for the first time in his career? Is it from his bladder issue this spring? Is it from all the above? Or, are his issues simply due to the foot issue identified above that has arisen on its own? I’m looking forward to his start Tuesday night, which may provide some more answers, or questions.
  5. peanuntgallery May 24, 2016 at 7:47 pm
    Matt Harvey has, unfortunately, aged before his years. Not knowing, I assumed he was at least 36 years old. How sad that he is only in his twenties. His physical problems are only exacerbated by his mental ones – that is – his focus on a big beautiful blonde that has overpowered him.