The baseball world wept when the news broke this Monday that Mets ace Matt Harvey had been diagnosed with a partial tear in his UCL, likely costing him at least a year on the field. This deprives the Mets of a chance to contend in 2014 and leaves baseball fans of all stripes with one fewer exciting young pitcher to watch.
It would take a rather perverse number cruncher to find anything positive in Harvey’s injury. I’ll be that pervert. As commenter Compton points out on this piece, which I wrote last spring about the seven sub-2.00 FIP seasons since 1920, Harvey’s name can now be added to that list. Or at least, we think he’ll be added. Part of the FIP formula is a constant used to scale FIP to ERA. Should the league as a whole see its ERA rise in comparison to its FIP over the last month of this season, that constant (now 3.033) could change (funny thing about constants…).
Anyway, Harvey’s FIP through 178 1/3 innings (enough to guarantee he qualifies for the ERA and FIP titles at year-end) was 1.99, the eighth-best figure since the end of the deadball era. Harvey struck out 9.64 batters per nine innings, walked 1.56 per nine, and gave up 0.35 home runs per nine. Among qualified NL pitchers, these rates rank fourth, fifth, and first, respectively. Combining them gives Harvey the best FIP in the league by .33 points and the best in either league in the new millenium.
Bad luck was a recurring theme during Harvey’s 2013. In terms of fielding-dependent outcomes, his .280 BABIP was slightly better than league average and his strand rate of 77.4% was just on the other side of average, so the difference between his 1.99 FIP and his excellent-but-maybe-not-legendary 2.27 ERA reflects not luck, but how freaking hard it is to keep an ERA under 2 in the major leagues.
Most of that bad luck (until the injury, at least) came in the form of poor run support and leads blown by the Mets bullpen. Harvey won nine games this year. That’s the same number won by Jason Marquis, whose 5.63 FIP is the worst in the NL among pitchers who have thrown more than 60 innings. It’s the same number won by Edinson Volquez, who has a 6.01 ERA despite pitching in one of the game’s great pitchers’ parks. It’s two more than Brad Ziegler has won in 60 relief innings for the Diamondbacks.
Here are the win totals for the last seven men to complete a season with a FIP below 2:
23 – Pedro Martinez, 1999
17 – Dwight Gooden, 1984
22 – Bob Gibson, 1968
25 – Sandy Koufax, 1963
26 – Sandy Koufax, 1965
20 – Tom Seaver, 1971
26 – Hal Newhouser, 1946
Only Gooden, a 19-year-old rookie held to a modest (for the time) 218 innings, failed to “win” 20 games. One might argue that Harvey was on pace for 11 or 12 wins before the injury, or even predict that he would have received normal run support and bullpen help and finished with as many as 13 or 14 wins. He had no chance to even approach Gooden’s total.
The pitcher win is a deeply flawed statistic, particularly when used to measure a pitcher’s individual success. But in concert with stats like FIP that better quantify talent, the win statistic can paint a tortured portrait of a pitcher doing everything in his power to help a team that might just be beyond help.
With all due respect to Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey might have been the best pitcher in baseball this year. When he started in 2013, the Mets went 12 and 14.