The controversy with Matt Harvey and the Mets is pretty clear cut by now. Harvey, through his agent, is beefing about his workload, the Mets feel blindsided that this is suddenly an issue now and it’s creating a story that no one apart from perhaps Scott Boras wanted to be a big story right now. Generally speaking, sentiment is on the side of the Mets in all of this, both on the merits of Harvey’s workload — no one ever declared there to be a hard inning cap and the Mets made lots of noises about that early in the year — and in terms of the timing of this becoming a story.
But there is one guy who has decided that the Mets are in the wrong here. Tom Boswell of the Washington Post. And he uses an example he covered back in 2012 as a point of comparison: The Stephen Strasburg shutdown:
In Strasburg’s case, the Nats’ brass agreed with best-medical-practice and the surgeon’s opinion. Washington made a public decision before opening day, which took the onus off Strasburg (then 23), and thumbed its nose at a subset of know-nothings. Then the Nationals took criticism when they lost in the playoffs. But they returned to the playoffs in 2014; Strasburg led the NL in strikeouts. A win for the high road.
The Mets’ brass has done the opposite. The Mets hid under a bed all season — as if Tommy John surgery wasn’t invented 41 years ago with a whole culture of protocols developed in the decades since. Oh, is there an “innings limit” for Harvey — like every other guy who has had the surgery? Gee, we missed that; 180, you say? We thought it was a flexible number. Maybe after the World Series?
As I’ve noted many times, it’s unfair to blame the Strasburg shutdown for the Nats’ failures in the 2012 playoffs and their disappointing 2013. That said, it’s another thing to characterize it, like Boswell does here, as “they shut him down, only glory came of it and we all lived happily ever after!” The Nats’ approach to Strasburg is still debated hotly by some, in terms of what it meant for Strasburg as a pitcher, in terms of what it meant for the Nats as a team and for the P.R. implications of how it was handled and communicated. For Boswell to pretend that’s not the case is disingenuous in the extreme.
The way he’s characterizing the Mets’ stance with Harvey is even more of a problem. The Mets did not “hide under the bed all season” or pretend that it was cool to ride Harvey hard and put him away wet. Quite the opposite, actually. They have skipped starts to give him extra rest. They have implemented a six-man rotation at times. In freakin’ January Sandy Alderson said he wouldn’t have a strict innings cap but . . .
Alderson said the Mets have an idea of a prudent innings cap for Harvey based on conversations with medical personnel, Harvey’s agent Scott Boras and Harvey himself. Still, team officials do not want to publicly disclose a number and then have it become a headline for the next 10 months. The GM added that there is some flexibility based on how Harvey performs.
When asked at the time, Alderson said 200 innings, including the playoffs, was possible. But that 215 or more is probably not. And the notion of letting a pitcher go based on how he performs is in far closer keeping with what baseball people say about pitcher workloads. There’s a difference between 200 mostly smooth innings and 180 laborious ones just as, in any game, a pitcher at a certain number of pitchers could be cruising while another pitcher is gasping for air. Body language, command, mechanics velocity and the feedback the pitcher gives coaches and his manager all enter into it. Alderson and the Mets have said, from the outset, that these sorts of considerations will apply to Harvey.
Put differently, it’s completely bogus to say, as Boswell does here, that the Mets have not been thinking about how best to deploy Harvey since the day he came back from surgery. He knows better than that. Or at least he should.