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