Mets Game 15: Win Over Nationals

Mets 7 Nationals 1

Matt Harvey wins round one.

Mets Game Notes

It was supposed to be a thrilling pitchers’ duel. Matt Harvey lived up to the hype, bringing his “A game.” Unfortunately, Stephen Strasburg did not. Still, it was entertaining to watch Harvey mow down the Nats.

Strasburg was really disappointing; his command was poor and his velocity was underwhelming. That’s not entirely fair; Strasburg was regularly hitting 96 MPH, but anything less than 99-100 from him is below expectations. His yellow hammer was often knee-buckling, but he struggled to get it in the strike zone. His fastball was fairly straight, and all too often catching far too much of the plate. Even in the upper 90s, and at the knees, a fastball that doesn’t move and is over the middle of the plate is going to get hit.

Conversely, Harvey was pounding his fastball in all four quadrants, as he’s been doing in all of his starts. Just as important and impressive, he was consistently getting “strike one,” which put him at a significant advantage. It took the patient Nats two turns through the order before they realized, “damn, we’re falling behind 0-1 with this approach — and he’s not giving us anything to hit once he’s ahead!” Harvey threw a first-pitch strike to 14 of the first 21 batters he faced, and even when he didn’t, he seemed to always find a way to get ahead. He was relentless in his goal of staying ahead of hitters, and turned ferocious when he got to strike two. It felt as though the Nats hitters had no chance at all once they got to two strikes — because Harvey buried them. Nearly every time he had two strikes on a hitter, Harvey made an excellent pitch in the perfect spot — be it a tight slider off the outside corner or a high fastball. Harvey was carving up the plate, carving up the hitters.

Part of Harvey success was home plate umpire Brian Knight’s penchant for calling the high strike. I don’t want to go so far as saying Knight’s strike zone was generous, but he was definitely calling pitches in the upper edge of the zone that aren’t always called by other umpires. Because Knight was consistently calling the high strike, Nats hitters had to protect the top of the zone with two strikes, and Harvey worked that to his advantage, “climbing the ladder” and getting swinging strike threes on pitches above and out of the strike zone. This was different from the days of John Maine getting Ks on high strikes; with Maine, that was the only spot he could hit consistently with his crappy mechanics. With Harvey, it was intentional, and part of a fluid plan that reacted to what the umpire gave him.

In contrast, Strasburg seemed to be intentionally trying to pound the bottom of the zone, possibly with sinkers. The problem, however, was that he couldn’t throw strikes at the knees and the edges of the plate — only at the knees and in the middle. But more flawed with this strategy was that by aiming low, he was throwing directly into the strength of most of the Mets hitters. Marlon Byrd, Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis, Jordany Valdespin, and John Buck are all low-ball hitters with loopy swings — the exact type of hitters that Strasburg should be able to eat up with high heat. So why attack the lower part of the zone? You’ve got me. I get the idea that Strasburg is trying to be more efficient with his pitches by pitching to contact and getting ground balls. And I also get the idea of a pitcher pitching to his strength, rather than to an opponent’s weakness. However, I would think that a guy who can hit triple digits has strength with high fastballs. I don’t understand the strategy of pitching to an area that is less than your strength and also your opponent’s strength. Seems someone is over-thinking this.

Next time we see this matchup, I hope Strasburg is up to the task. It was obviously an off-night for Strasburg, who can be electrifying, but right now — even if Strasburg was having a good night and blowing hitters away — there is enough support for the argument that Harvey is the more polished and complete of the two pitchers. I’d like to see them be “on” during the same night and see what happens; this was like watching a Mike Tyson – Evander Holyfield fight — what an amazing bout it could be, if only Tyson would fight like Tyson.

Despite a seven-run outburst, the offensive story was an afterthought compared to Harvey — especially after Harvey worked out of an impossible no-out, bases-loaded jam that Daniel Murphy put him into in the seventh. Harvey picked up his brother and slammed the door, which ripped the heart out of the Nats; if they weren’t scoring then, they weren’t scoring, and they knew it. The homerun barrage by bash brothers Davis and Duda were welcome, but anticlimactic.

Speaking of … Bobby Ojeda talked about Ike Davis being able to hit homeruns despite being out on his front foot and looking awkward, explaining it was because Davis “is so strong.” No. It’s because that’s PRECISELY how homeruns are often hit; check any old-time game footage of legitimate homerun king Hank Aaron — he routinely hit homeruns while out on his front foot. The concept of shifting all the weight forward and hitting off the front foot, in fact, is the fundamental philosophy set forth by the late Charley Lau (and advanced by Walt Hriniak and others). The two longballs mashed by Davis were nice to see, but I don’t necessarily see them as evidence of his breaking out of his slump. Rather, I see them as the expected result of Ike’s approach — he is swinging for a homerun just about every time he brings his bat forward, and eventually, odds are that he will run into a few moon shots. The first homer he hit off Strasburg was a knee-high fastball over the middle of the plate; he damn well better mash that pitch, considering Ike is a low-ball hitter. On the second homer, hit off Drew Storen, Davis looked like he was slightly fooled — Davis was far ahead of the pitch and he jerked it into the upper deck. That’s not “strength” but the result of all of his weight driving forward, with the momentum of the shift powering the ball at contact, which occurred a few feet in front of home plate. It was a 90-MPH fastball tailing over the outside part of the plate; had it been even two inches closer to the middle of the plate, Davis would have jerked it foul into the stands — or possibly missed it completely. It wasn’t strength, or a better approach — it was luck. Ike Davis has developed into a mistake hitter: he can occasionally hit mistakes over the fence, and he will occasionally hit a ball over the fence by mistake.

Speaking of hitting mistakes, Lucas Duda has proven that he has that skill — now if he can only embrace it, and start looking for more of them. Duda’s duo blasts came on pitches over the heart of the plate, between the knees and waist. Keith Hernandez noted that the location is Duda’s “wheelhouse” — heck yeah, as it is for just about every MLB hitter. The difference is, not every MLB hitter can turn around a fastball over the middle of the plate and deposit it 420 feet away — but Duda can. I’m starting to believe that Duda could develop into a hitter similar to Adam Dunn — a guy who takes walks, clogs the bases, is a defensive liability, but can mash enough mistakes to make up for the negatives. The question, of course, is whether Duda believes it too — it’s all about what’s going on upstairs with “the dude.”

Storen, by the way, is not the same pitcher he was prior to the surgery he had this time last year to remove a bone chip from his elbow. I know he threw very effectively after returning late last year, but his velocity is not in the 95-96, occasionally touching 97 that it was when he was saving 40+ games. Like Strasburg, his location was poor, as his fastball was hanging in the middle of the plate. There’s been talk of his confidence shaken since his postseason meltdown last October, and I would agree that he doesn’t have that same “killer” look he had before; he has that Brad Lidge look to him. Further, his mechanics have always been, and continue to be, AWFUL; the ball is far, far behind where it needs to be at foot strike. All this adds up to a pitcher who will quickly descend; it won’t surprise me to see him either on the DL or in the minors by the All-Star break. It’s a shame, since he looked so promising just a year ago, and is only 25 years old — but I’m betting that he’s peaked.

Every once in a while Keith Hernandez says something that makes me shake his head. For example, in the first frame, he said that Bryce Harper has “kind of a long swing, an unusual swing.” Huh? Sorry, Keith, but I’m gonna have to go ahead and uh, disagree. Harper has a very efficient swing, and if it’s unusual, it’s because it’s damn near perfect and having a near-perfect swing is unusual. But then, this is the same Keith who loves Daniel Murphy’s swing, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I still love listening to Hernandez, but sometimes I want to stuff a towel in his mouth.

One thing about Harvey that has me mildly concerned: after release, he cuts off the momentum of his upper body and stays a little more straight-up than I’d like, which in turn puts most of the stress of deceleration on his upper body and arm. What I’d like to see him do is let his momentum continue forward and down, with his head low and “nose to toes,” throwing arm following through down past his left knee.

Next Mets Game

The Mets and Nats do it again on Saturday afternoon at 3:05 p.m., with Jeremy Hefner facing Gio Gonzalez. Tune in to FOX to see it on TV.

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. murph April 20, 2013 at 4:21 am
    Harvey is off to such an incredible start to the season, he gives up 1 run in 7 innings and his E.R.A. goes UP!
  2. Wohjr April 20, 2013 at 4:34 am
    Joe:

    Criticize Ike all you like, that second dong was a lazer beam into the 2nd deck. Wow, mr Harvey dent made a damn dent in the nats. Alas he can’t pitch again tomorrow! Allez les metros!

  3. argonbunnies April 20, 2013 at 5:10 am
    That was the most fun I’ve had watching a game in quite a while.

    Completely agree with your take on Strasburg, Joe. I also wonder if something’s wrong, though. His motion looked somehow less direct toward the plate, like he was less behind the ball than I remember. If so, that might explain the inability to locate. What do you think?

    As for Harvey’s follow-through, the shots from behind the plate reminded me of Pedro, the way the back leg whipped forward as he rose out of his crouch. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. Pedro didn’t survive throwing that way forever, but from 1993-2005 his only significant health problem was missing half of 2001.

    Speaking of ace’s motions, what did you think of that old footage of Doc? Very unique style of rotation, with his upper body taking this down/right-up/left-down/right arc. After delivery his hips are facing the plate, but his upper body looks like he’s reaching for the 1B side of the mound, and then the legs follow a bit at the very end. Not sure if I’m describing it well, but I thought it looked powerful and fluid and unique and I wonder if anyone else ought to try it.

    Final note: guess who leads the NL in OPS? Is he a AAAA player, the next Adam Dunn, or (as Hudgens has said) the next Giambi?

    • Joe Janish April 20, 2013 at 11:14 am
      Strasburg blew out his elbow due to a mechanical flaw, and I don’t know that it’s been corrected (which is why the pitch-count crap from last year was nonsense). The video footage we get from the CF camera isn’t very helpful in identifying many flaws; really, you need to watch from several angles and ideally with high-speed video — in short, it’s hard to say what’s up with Strasburg, but the follow-through does suggest he could be doing something wrong.

      I know what you mean about Pedro, but it’s not the whipping around of the leg that bothers me so much as the upright way Harvey stays at and after release. Pedro still got his head low and out over his front toe — see here what I mean: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e0/Pedro_Mart%C3%ADnez_2008.jpg/788px-Pedro_Mart%C3%ADnez_2008.jpg.

      What Harvey does may not be any concern at all — again, hard to really see without several angles and high-speed film.

      Gooden over-rotated, which caused his front side to fly open prematurely. But his real issue was the position of his throwing hand at foot strike — it was usually behind where it need to be. There’s a good shot of how both issues put him in a really bad position here: http://pixel.nymag.com/imgs/daily/sports/2011/10/19/19_dwightgooden86.o.jpg/a_560x375.jpg

      The ball needs to be at a higher point there, with the forearm perpendicular to the ground, and you see how his upper body is already leaning back, toward 1B? That’s what I mean by flying open the front side.

      If you recall, Doc had shoulder problems in 1989, and when he returned, he slightly changed his motion to get his right hand “caught up” with the rest of his body — he took the ball out of the glove a little earlier during leg lift. The damage to his shoulder, however, was already done, so there wasn’t any chance of going back to 98 MPH heat — and he still over-rotated, so his motion still fairly inefficient, and therefore most of the power had to come from his damaged arm.

      There’s an interesting story from the NYTimes about Gooden’s injury and possible surgery — it’s very similar to the injury suffered by Johan Santana: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:xAuwk0LxhacJ:www.nytimes.com/1991/09/05/sports/baseball-how-gooden-s-injury-will-be-judged.html+&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a

      • argonbunnies April 20, 2013 at 2:58 pm
        Nice Pedro image. I was assuming Harvey got to that position too before bouncing up. He doesn’t? I’ll have to watch his next start and see if I can tell.

        Yikes, that shot of Doc is scary. Looks familiar, actually, like I’ve seen that exact same shot of another pitcher more recently. Maybe Harden?

        So do you think Doc’s odd finish was simply part of his dangerous motion? Or do you think that finish could be used safely by pitchers whose arms didn’t lag? I was thinking maybe the way the torso comes around with the arm might reduce the stress of deceleration on the arm, but I’m just guessing here. “It looks fluid to me” is all I’ve got, really.

        • Joe Janish April 20, 2013 at 11:39 pm
          Something that looks “fluid” is subjective. Biomechanics is objective, and biomechanical research insists that the ball must be at its highest point, with the throwing arm in an “L” position, at foot strike — it’s similar to the hitter’s hands needing to be in the “launch” position when his stride foot comes down. Athletic movements are consistent across positions, actions, and sports.

          As for Doc’s finish … well, he got there because of what happened earlier in his motion. You have to connect the dots, and often, work backward to figure out what is happening correctly or incorrectly. In some cases, you can teach a particular type of finish in order to create the right execution earlier in the motion. I do believe that Doc’s follow-through took the stress of deceleration off his arm and toward the torso and lower body. But again, his flaw came earlier — much of his velocity was dependent on his arm speed, so there was significant stress on his shoulder.

  4. argonbunnies April 20, 2013 at 5:20 am
    Also, I must disagree on Harper’s swing. If you watch it from the side, it’s very unusual. Watch the upper body pivot forward with the arms way back behind it. It almost looks like he dislocates his right shoulder at that point. And then the arms swing forward with a vicious cut.

    I love it, and it crushes the baseball, but it definitely looks to me like the swing of a young, flexible, super-athlete. If Harper is still getting results with that swing in his 30s, I’d be surprised.

    • Joe Janish April 20, 2013 at 11:30 am
      Well we can agree to disagree. I love the swing, and use pieces of it as a model for many of the kids I teach. He has an extreme, aggressive take-back, which I don’t teach, because it usually results in a big loop with normal human beings. Somehow, though, Harper keeps a straight line to the ball. Occasionally, he swings too hard, causing his head to move forward — those aren’t the swings I like. When he keeps the head still, though, everything fits into place nicely, with his upper and lower body working in unison.

      I’m mostly focused on the fact his hands go straight down to the ball, he gets great extension, his lower half loads and shifts remarkably well, both halves are in unison, and he has outstanding balance throughout the swing — based on those factors, I don’t think there’s anything “weird.”

      Hey, if Harper starts slowing down in his 30s, that gives him about 10 years. The Mets rebuilding process may be finished by then. ;-)

      What I find “weird” is Ike Davis’ swing, because he has a huge hitch, swings up to the ball, his head drifts forward, and he usually finds himself with all of his weight over his front foot. It reminds me of a slugger in slo-pitch softball.

      • argonbunnies April 20, 2013 at 3:06 pm
        Yeah, “pretty” is not how I’d describe Ike’s swing. It’s funny, the guys I can think of with similar loads, like Eric Davis and Andre Dawson, tended to be high ball hitters. But then Ike likes the ball down. As for the front foot thing, agreed, it comes with downsides but produces some HRs. Heck, look at the way Babe Ruth walked into the ball.

        There was a slo-mo shot of Duda’s 2nd HR last night, where his finish, after contact, looked exactly like Josh Hamilton.

  5. meticated April 20, 2013 at 7:55 am
    that was fantastic…analysis and insight unparalleled …again the mets should be very attuned to your blogging and respect it as wisdom
  6. nicky a April 20, 2013 at 9:10 am
    HARVEY’S BETTER!
    HARVEY’S BETTER!
    HARVEY’S BETTER!
  7. Chris April 20, 2013 at 9:15 am
    If Davis is a “mistake” hitter, then the Mets will be thrilled with 25 to 35 mistakes per year from him, even if he hits .220. Thing that bothers me about Ike is that he ain’t the “slick glove man” at first that he was sold as. He’s an OK first baseman but he’s definitely no Mex.

    Hey Joe, you may be a baseball expert; I’m not, but I’m doubtful about your qualifications to call for Harvey making an adjustment in his finish. Why don’t we wait until he starts looking shaky before we tell him to fix something?

    Duda still is mostly potential. He takes too many hittable pitches, thereby often putting himself in a hole. No denying his awesome power, though. Five homers thru April 20 is encouraging.

    Strasburg has talent but he was seriously hyped before his callup. He has absolutely nothing, I mean zero, on Doc Gooden. At Strasburg’s age, Gooden was 100-39 with 52 complete games and 19 shutouts. Unless Strasburg catches lightning in a bottle or a second wind, he’s destined to post a Trachsel-type career.

    • Joe Janish April 20, 2013 at 11:41 am
      Agreed on Ike — and I think there’s a very good chance he can and will hit 25-30 HR, maybe more. It’s unlikely to come with a .280+ AVG, though — and perhaps it won’t matter, if he’s mashing enough.

      Also agreed on his glove work. I’ve said all along that he’s an average MLB first baseman. Which is absolutely fine, especially if he’s hitting 30 HR.

      I’m also doubtful about my qualifications re: pitching mechanics, which is why I rely on what scientists tell me. Regarding Harvey, I see something that might be harmful, and I’m going to do some research and talk to a few experts (kinetic and biomechanics scientists). I wish MLB teams took my approach, instead of assuming they knew everything about pitching mechanics (or, believing that arm injuries occur for no reason other than chance). I could be completely wrong on Harvey, and I’m going to try to find out one way or the other.

      Duda may take hittable pitches, but he also puts himself into hitter’s counts, in the process getting a good read on ball movement and velocity. There’s an argument for both sides.

      I don’t know that Strasburg will ever live up to the hype. He was an absolute beast dominating college and minor league hitters with a 103-MPH fastball — but now he’s “only” at 96. Sure, 96 MPH is pretty darn fast, but it’s not an uber-freak, dominant velocity. Quite a letdown; I expected him to be over 7 innings what Aroldis Chapman does in one. To me, when I saw him in college and his first few MLB starts, he was the next Nolan Ryan.

  8. DaveSchneck April 20, 2013 at 10:04 pm
    Joe,
    Excellent recap. Not much more to say. Perhaps some kudos (for a change). Mr. Harvey has been as good as can be, and it doesn’t get any better than the jam he pitched out of in the 7th. Also kudos to the Dude. I am fine with his patience. Unlike Ike, Lucas looks like he has a plan every AB, like he did 2 years ago.