Matt Harvey, the one they call the “Dark Knight of Gotham,” has become a riddle in need of a solution.

For the New York Mets, that should involve taking him off the mound. At least for a little while.

The only positive takeaway from Harvey’s latest start is that he didn’t get booed off the mound this time. Squaring off against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Tuesday evening, the 27-year-old right-hander surrendered five runs in five innings in a 7-4 Mets loss. He walked two and gave up eight hits, three of which landed in the cheap seats.

Harvey has now surrendered at least five earned runs in three straight starts, bumping his ERA up to an ugly 6.08. That could make anyone look like a bad pitcher. But next to the 2.53 ERA he managed in his first three seasons, it makes him look like a broken pitcher.

This is typically where we go to the latest update from the man himself on where the cracks are, but Harvey had no explanations for the media following Tuesday’s game. In fact, David Lennon of Newsday is among the many who reported he had no words at all:

Even without hearing it from Harvey himself, though, it’s plenty clear at this point he’s not himself.

It’s not just the bad ERA that sticks out. He’s gone from striking out over a batter per inning in his first three seasons to striking out only 7.5 per nine innings in 2016. He’s also gone from allowing 0.6 home runs per nine innings to more than twice that at 1.4 per nine innings.

One of the root causes of Harvey’s sudden hittability has been hard to miss. His fastball doesn’t have the same zip it had in 2015. Brooks Baseball has its average release speed down from an average of 96.5 miles per hour to an average 94.9 miles per hour. 

Harvey’s stuff also just hasn’t looked the same to the naked eye. His average spin rate would seem to confirm that, as Baseball Savant confirms it’s also down from 2015:

  • 2015: 2,263 rpm
  • 2016: 2,217 rpm

It’s impossible to consider all this without casting a glance at Harvey’s 2015 workload. After missing all of 2014 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, he returned to pitch 189.1 innings in the regular season and another 26.2 in the Mets’ World Series run. Terry Collins, Harvey’s manager, and Scott Boras, his agent, have entertained the idea he could be feeling a hangover effect from all that work in 2016.

Harvey has avoided playing that card. He’s instead repeatedly pointed his finger at his mechanics. Most recently, he even tried to get back on track over the weekend with an impromptu throwing session on the Citi Field mound, where each throw could be digitally tracked for further analysis.

“For me it was good that once I started feeling like I was throwing the ball correctly and comfortably, it was all the same,” Harvey said of the session, via Adam Rubin of “I think in my last 20 pitches, I had a very consistent arm slot.”

Whatever Harvey supposedly figured out, though, didn’t translate to Tuesday’s start. Brooks Baseball can show he couldn’t keep a consistent arm slot. And at an average of 94.2 miles per hour, his fastball was even slower than usual.

That brings us to the crossroads the Mets now find themselves at with Harvey. They’ve tried letting him pitch through his struggles, but that hasn’t worked. They’ve tried to help him iron out his mechanics, but that hasn’t worked either. From there, their options only get more drastic.

Whether they like it or not, they have to pick one.

Sending Harvey down to the minors to get himself squared away is the nuclear option. As Marc Carig of Newsday reported, the Mets considered that even before Harvey’s latest dud.

But that obviously didn’t happen. And as Carig senses, nobody should be bracing (or hoping) for that to happen now:

Fair enough. It would be extreme for the Mets to go straight to the nuclear option. It would also do no favors for a relationship that’s already had contentious moments. Considering they’d like to get at least two more good years out of Harvey before his club control runs out at the end of 2018, it’s not yet worth it to risk that.

Skipping Harvey’s next start, however, is the least the Mets can do.

Rubin’s report on Harvey’s throwing session mentioned the Mets thought about doing so after the Nationals shelled him last week. After Tuesday’s game, he senses the wind blowing that way again:

This is the logical next step. If the Mets are lucky, it’ll be enough to rest Harvey’s arm, smooth out his mechanics, clear out his head and fix whatever else may be ailing him.

If not, the Mets will have to devise a way to take him off the mound for more than just one start. The best way to do that would be to “find” an injury and place him on the disabled list for a couple of weeks. If there is indeed nothing physically wrong with him, that could at least cure what could be (and probably is) badly shaken confidence.

The silver lining of all this must be kept in focus. Harvey’s struggles have been ugly, but he hasn’t dragged the Mets to the bottom with him. They’re still enjoying some of the best starting pitching in the league, and their 26-19 record puts them only a game-and-a-half off the Nationals’ pace in the NL East. Even with him weighing them down, they’re still a good team.

But for the Mets to go as far in 2016 as they did in 2015, they need Harvey to be himself again. And since waiting for that to happen on its own has failed, it’s time for plan B.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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