Remember when in 2015, then Mets ace Matt Harvey and team management decided to go against the wishes of agent Scott Boras and use him in the playoffs, pushing past a predetermined innings limit? Ever since then, it seems, Harvey's skyrocketing career has come crashing all the way down -- resulting most recently in .
Harvey would end up throwing 189 1/3 regular-season innings and 26 2/3 more in the postseason in 2015. I know we've been trained over years of tamping down on workloads, but that seems like a lot coming off Tommy John surgery the year before. So what if the team, and an ultra competitive Harvey, decided to play it safe? Would Harvey's career and the success of the Mets gone a lot different since that fateful season?
Let's try an exercise of the imagination, shall we?
OUR ALTERNATE REALITY:
In similar fashion to what we saw with the first-place Nationals shutting down ace Stephen Strasburg in 2012, the Mets have decided to shut down Harvey in his first full season following Tommy John surgery.
More worried about his long-term health than even a possible run to the World Series, the Mets brass has put its foot down. Harvey's agent, Scott Boras agrees and though it bothers him to see him questioned so vehemently by the New York media, Harvey reluctantly goes along with the plan.
He ends the season after Aug. 28. He made 24 starts, going 11-7 with a 2.48 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 149 strikeouts in 160 innings. He held opponents to a .213/.260/.350 line and can now start preparing for a full 2016 season at age 27.
Full disclosure: I'm not saying Harvey shouldn't have kept pitching. At the time, I was on his side. Winning the World Series is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for most and he might have never gotten that chance again, even if the Alternate Reality scenario played out above and he continued pitching like an ace.
There's no medical evidence of a specific magic number when it comes to innings or pitches, but talk to medical professionals and they'll agree that overuse is one thing -- not the only thing, but it's one -- that causes injuries. Per Dr. James Andrews, it starts now when the players are kids, as they compete year-round and even on multiple teams. We can't back that out once they get to be Harvey's age, but there can be levels of protection.
Even in this alternate universe, it's entirely possible that Harvey still ends up with thoracic outlet syndrome in 2016, which is followed by a mess of a 2017 -- on and off the field and with injury. It's possible this was all leading to Harvey still not being very good in 2018, which has led to an early-season demotion to the bullpen.
We don't know. We have no way of knowing. We can't go back in time and even if we could, we don't have a science experiment with a "control Harvey" where we can find the specific point of shutting him down and having him perform well the next several years.
Further, maybe once the dust settles on Harvey's career he'll have thought it was worth it to be a major part of sweeping the Cubs in the NLCS in order to make the World Series in 2015. He then also got to start two World Series games. The number of pitchers in history to start two World Series games dwarfs the number of those who didn't get to do so.
Still, I can't help but wonder. And I'm sure most Mets fans can't either. And you can't help but wonder if you take a look at this stark contrast:
You could say he's dealt with far more injuries since 2015, but he missed all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was great in 2015, even bleeding into the playoffs with a big workload. Perhaps the injuries have just stacked up, but what if that's because of the extended workload in 2015?
Again, I just can't help but wonder what might have been when it comes to Harvey. It's possible this same thing happens. But the "what if? lingers ...
As things stand, he made his first relief appearance Tuesday night and wasn't very good. What's worse, his stuff didn't play up too much. For example, most players throw a lot harder in relief because they only go in short spurts instead of needing to get through five, six, seven or more innings. Take Wade Davis with the Royals in 2013-14. His fourseamer averaged 93.96 miles per hour in July of 2013. He was a starter. As a reliever in 2014, it averaged 96.77 miles per hour (brooksbaseball.net).
Havery's bump in his first outing was modest. He went from mid-93s to 94.41 mph on Tuesday. It was only his first relief appearance, but it wasn't encouraging. He obviously agreed, as he refused to speak with the media despite the Mets ended up coming from behind to win.
Whatever it was, something happened to Harvey after the 2015 season. He's set to hit free agency after this season and unless there's a drastic change, it's hard to see him getting a major-league offer. This from a guy who looked like an ace during Game 5 of the 2015 World Series.