There was a certain amount of intrigue generated in Kansas City when the Royals signed Matt Harvey this season. After all, nobody is more symbolic from the Mets in the 2015 World Series than the “Dark Knight”, who famously asked to stay in the game in the ninth, only to give up a run, which eventually led to the Mets unraveling in the ninth and eventually the game, which helped the Royals clinch Game 5 and their second World Series title in franchise history.
That being said, it is safe to say that Royals fans knew they were not getting that “Gotham” version of Harvey who was the “ace” of the 2015 NL Pennant-winning squad. Instead, the Royals were hoping that they could perhaps channel his 2018 self, in which he posted a 4.50 ERA in 24 starts and 128 innings with the Cincinnati Reds. While that line is pretty mediocre, it would have at least given the Royals rotation some stability, something they have lacked in the rotation other than Brad Keller and Danny Duffy.
After impressing in Summer Camp, and with Jakob Junis hitting the shelf due to injury, the Royals called up Harvey over top prospects such as Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar with the hope that Harvey could find that 2018 magic or perhaps something slightly above. Unfortunately, Harvey hasn’t been much better than his 2019 self with the Angels, in which he posted a 7.09 ERA in 12 starts and 59.2 IP. Take a look at the lines from his first three starts as a Royal in the Tweet below:
His latest start was the roughest yet, and was difficult to stomach not just for Royals fans, but even manager Mike Matheny, who pulled the 31-year-old starter in the second inning, even though the Royals bullpen has been over-worked this season due to starter injury and inconsistency. However, the first-year manager had no choice, as the Indians lineup pretty much engaged in batting practice against Harvey’s fastbal-slider-changeup-curve repertoire.
When looking at the exit velocities of Cleveland hitters’ batted balls against him in his latest start, it’s amazing that his start didn’t crater even more (I mean he did pitch on the same day the Rockies gave up 23 runs to the San Francisco Giants).
And thus, though he has only pitched seven innings in a Royals uniform, Royals fans have to wonder? Is the Harvey experiment already at its end? Or will Matheny and Dayton Moore try to figure out a new role for the veteran in order to turn things around not just for him, but for the team as well over this last month of play?
If management DOES decide to find another role for Harvey, will that effort be worth it? Especially with the Royals playoff chances pretty much gone, and the likelihood of Harvey returning to Kansas City pretty much nil as well?
It’s hard to find any bright spots in any of Harvey’s appearances with the Royals thus far in 2020. Not only is he posting a 15.43 ERA, but his other metrics are painful to look at as well. He’s sporting a 12.86 FIP, a 1.20 K/BB ratio (which would be a career worst), a 41.7 HR/FB rate (another career worst), a barrel rate of 17.2 percent, and a swinging strike rate of 7.4 percent, which ties his lowest career rate in a season (the other time it was 7.4 percent was in 2017). Even though he’s only appeared in three games, Harvey is already posting a -0.5 WAR, which shows how negative his impact has been on this Royals team in his limited stint in the rotation thus far.
Thus, it’s hard to find many reasons (if any, honestly) for keeping Harvey at this point. The Royals are employing a six-man rotation with him and Junis right now, and neither guy have showed that they can go beyond the fourth inning this year (though that has been more due to bad luck to Junis rather than ineffectiveness like Harvey). Furthermore, while Brady Singer and Kris Bubic are young guns who have gotten shots to develop and prove themselves at the Major League level, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar continue to toil at T-Bones Stadium in Kansas City, Kansas, waiting for that opportunity to show what they can do with the big league club on the Missouri side of Kansas City. Therefore, on the surface, Harvey not only hurts the Royals on the field when he is on the mound, but he also hinders the development of prospects like Lynch and Kowar, who need Major League experience if they want to make their way into the rotation at some point during the 2021 season.
However, is it possible that Harvey could perhaps have an impact on this Royals rotation that could not be measured by his pitching metrics? And if so, wouldn’t that be a reason to keep him for this last month of play, even if it only means a limited bullpen role?
If there is one thing that this Royals pitching staff lacks, it is veteran presence, especially with Trevor Rosenthal gone. Yes, there is Greg Holland and Danny Duffy, but Harvey is a different beast all together. Harvey has not only seen it all as a former top prospect in the Mets system, but he has also experienced major success in one of the biggest baseball cities in the country. For a short while, Harvey handled the pressure with all eyes on him, especially during the 2015 season in which he led the Mets to a pennant and their first World Series appearance in 15 seasons. Furthermore, who could forget him being in the ESPN Body Issue and going on Jimmy Fallon and interviewing unsuspecting Mets fans incognito, as evidenced in the bit below?
From 2013-2015, there was no pitcher more iconic in baseball than Harvey. And while Harvey experienced the highs of that kind of hype and promise, he also has suffered through pitfalls of fame as well. He knows what it’s like to disappoint and struggle through injury after nearly leading a club to their first World Series title since 1986. He understands the challenges of rehab, and the backlash one faces from a fanbase when a highly-heralded player doesn’t live up to expectation. In fact, after his fiasco against the Indians, no pitcher handled the performance more critically than Harvey:
Harvey could have taken the easy road to explain such a poor start and a poor stretch to begin the year. He didn’t join the club until the end of July, after the 2020 season started. He wasn’t in Spring Training with any club, and he hadn’t pitched for any Major League club since being released by the Angels in late July of 2019. To think that Harvey was just going to come into the Royals rotation after only a few weeks of work in the Alternate Site, and be the “Batman” of old was a pipedream. In reality, he’s still adjusting to being back in the Majors and building himself up, and it’s unfortunate for him and the Royals that he has to do this in late August and early September rather than in February and March in Cactus League play at the Royals’ Spring Training facility.
Thus, it is possible that Harvey in some limited work out of the pen could be productive and find moderate success, perhaps like Ian Kennedy in 2019 and Jesse Hahn this year (former starters turned relievers). But at this point, what his ERA ends up being as a Royal isn’t important. It’s the mentoring of Singer and Bubic and the other young arms on this roster that may make him worth keeping. Despite his ups and downs not just as a Royal, but since his 2015 collapse, nobody in baseball is more candid or pragmatic than Harvey. And that could be valuable to guys like Singer and Bubic who have seen their fair shares of ups and downs after coming into this year as “saviors” to this Royals organization and future. Harvey can help those guys keep perspective, help them learn from his and their mistakes, and stay on them as a veteran in the clubhouse who had it all and lost it, much to no fault of his own (injuries can do that to you).
And that could matter more to this Royals pitching staff than an ERA, FIP, or even WAR.
It may sound like I am defending Harvey, and maybe I am to a certain degree. I am rooting for the guy, because even though he hasn’t been in New York since 2018, Mets fans and media continue to ride him and take glee in his decline, as if he purposefully tried to tank the 2015 World Series. I would like to see Harvey prove those Queens fans wrong somewhat. Even if statistically this may be the worst season of his career, and this ends up being his final hurrah at the MLB level, it would be nice for him to make a parting impact on helping develop Singer, Bubic and other young pitchers on the Royals staff. It wouldn’t be something Royals fans could measure or perhaps even remember beyond this year. But it would make his arrival somewhat worth it, even if it didn’t produce anything statistically of note during this weird, shortened season.
It will be intriguing to see if Matheny and Moore view Harvey with having this potential as well. At 14-23 now after losing two of three at Kauffman Stadium to the Indians in rough fashion (Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, and Triston McKenzie made mince meat of the Royals lineup, much like the Opening Day series), Moore may not have the patience to keep Harvey on as a mentor for much longer. He may not believe that Harvey can improve out of the bullpen. Instead, Moore may feel that after three starts, the experiment failed, and that the Royals will be better off in September without him.
That is difficult to project. As of now, Harvey is on the Royals roster. And honestly, while he has struggled, I would rather have him out of the bullpen than Chance Adams or Randy Rosario, other journeymen jump-offs from other organizations who, much like Harvey, haven’t quite materialized in Kansas City. While he may not be much better than Adams or Rosario on paper, at least he will give the leadership and professionalism in the clubhouse this team needs, especially during this rough stretch of play which could only get rougher by season’s end.
I am not sure Moore values those Harvey intangibles as much as I do though…
I guess we will find out soon enough…and see how long “The Dark Knight” has before he finally hangs his career up for good.