I, for one, am thrilled that the Kansas City Royals are on the verge of signing Matt Harvey. I say this as a lifelong die-hard fan of the New York Mets, living in Kansas City. The 2015 World Series was an amazing experience for me. I loved my Mets, but I had also fallen pretty hard. They were just impossible to dislike. Matt Harvey played a huge role in the Mets success that year, and the Mets mismanagement of him, helped the Royals win the World Series. Ever since he left Game 5, the Royal fans I know found him to be a punchline while the Met fans soon feared the idea of him taking the mound.
Harvey did more than enough to make it easy for fans to be angry with him, but this isn’t that sort of piece. I’m here to defend Matt Harvey, but to do so, let me tell you about another pitching phenom.
In 2009, the Washington Nationals drafted Stephen Strasburg. By many accounts, he was the best pitching prospect ever. He had the size and the stuff. He threw hard and had great command. In his first game in the Major Leagues, he struck out 14 batters. His tremendous rookie season was cut short, when he needed Tommy John surgery. For a pitcher, Tommy John surgery, is a tremendous setback. It requires missing a season, and then the pitchers first season back, he’s still not fully recovered.
Strasburg’s first season back was 2012. And his team was really good. In fact, they won 98 games and were seen as a World Series favorite. The thing is, due to Strasburg’s injury, the Nationals decided it was better to protect him. They did so throughout the season, never letting him pitch more than 7 innings, and only letting him top 110 pitches twice. Then they made all the talking heads explode, when they shut him down for the year in early September. Likely ending their chances of winning the World Series that year.
They remained competitive, and Strasburg was one of the better pitchers in the game from 2013–2016. So the Nationals rewarded him with a seven-year $175 million contract, that included an option to opt out after the 2019 season. Which he did, right after leading the Nationals to a World Series title. He was again rewarded by the franchise, this time with a seven-year $245 million contract. So if you’re keeping track at home: the Nationals won a World Series, and Strasburg’s two contracts have been worth a combined $330.3 million.
So when I talk to Royal fans about Matt Harvey, the first thing they seem to enjoy bringing up is how Matt wanted so badly to finish game 5 of the 2015 World Series, that he semi-bullied the manager, Terry Collins, into letting him start the 9th inning. But here’s what Royal fans don’t seem to understand, and a lot of Met fans seem to have forgotten, 2015 was Matt’s first season back after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Mets protected Harvey, keeping him on a pitch count, and he only topped 110 pitches once that season. But as 2015 progressed, and the Mets were in the thick of a Pennant Race, the story came out that his agent, Scott Boras, had informed the Mets that Matt would only pitch 180 innings. If it meant missing the playoffs, then so be it. He had to protect his client. All three parties screwed this up. The Mets painted Boras and Harvey as selfish, Harvey first stood by his agents comments, which wasn’t a great look for fans or teammates.
Yet he changed his mind, and continued to pitch. Rather than keeping to his 180 inning limit, Harvey pitched, including the post-season, 215 innings. In game five, he had pitched 8 brilliant innings of 4 hit baseball. Yes, he demanded that Collins allow him to pitch the 9th inning. And that ended up biting the Mets right on the ass. But that was still Collin’s call, not Harvey. Any pitcher who didn’t want to continue, in that situation, is not someone anyone wants on their team.
After that game, Harvey was never the same. His 2016 and 2017 seasons were cut short after needing shoulder surgery. Which brings us back to Strasburg. Prior to either of them needing Tommy John surgery, Harvey had a lower earned run average and WHIP (Walks+Hits/Innings Pitched) than Strasburg. Harvey has made a nice chunk of change in his career. $28 million is nothing to scoff at. And I know we can’t say for sure that it was that game, or which game exactly, or even if it was related to continuing to pitch at all that season. But it isn’t outrageous to come to the conclusion that he lost about $300 million, because he kept pitching. He had his off the field hiccups, but this is not a guy who should be booed by any fan-base.
I really hope he’s able to bounce back, and I’ll be happy to watch him do that in Kansas City. So I’ll be the one fan in Kansas City that’s cheering for him, but not doing it ironically.