Matt Harvey’s performance tonight says absolutely nothing about his workload controversy

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The Matt Harvey story has been at the top of the baseball news charts for the past several days. He pitches against the Nationals tonight. This, we are told is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. Not just because a win puts the Mets six games up on the Nats with 24 to play which, yes, is huge. But because it will “silence the critics” or “make a statement” or “end the controversy” or some such thing.

Richard Justice at MLB.com:

All Matt Harvey has to do is win this one game. Do that and all is forgiven. Well, almost all of it. What could be simpler than that? Seldom does life deliver this kind of opportunity in such a tidy package.

Ken Rosenthal at Fox:

Boras, though, is not the only one who bears responsibility for this mess. Harvey brought some of his problems upon himself. And the Mets should have resolved this entire matter long ago.

I don’t want to be over-dramatic — Mets fans will embrace Harvey again if he vanquishes the Nationals on Tuesday night and contributes during the postseason, and an inflamed media will embrace him again, too.

I don’t offer these quotes to pick on these two journalists, the work of each is almost always excellent. I quote them because these passages are indicative of what we’ll see after tonight’s game between the Mets and Nats, particularly from the New York writers. If Harvey pitches well, “all is forgiven.” If he doesn’t, every story about it will either blame the recent innings flap for it and/or help build a general anti-Harvey media consensus.

Which is silly. Because the innings controversy has absolutely nothing to do with this game today. He was pitching in it either way. If he throws a no-hitter tonight and then gets shut down because of an innings limit and the Mets lose every game in which he was supposed to take a turn and then miss the playoffs, tonight’s result will not have made such a shutdown less responsible. If he gets the hell beat out of him tonight but the Mets still make the playoffs and Harvey shines in subsequent performances, tonight’s result will not have mattered either. If he does something in between but then tears his elbow up next February, there will be much more to talk about as well, again, with this game not mattering.

Which isn’t to say the innings thing isn’t a legitimate controversy. It is. But it’s one that is to be resolved on its own terms, not because of a nice, punctuation-providing game that just so happens to come at the moment journalists are getting bored talking about it all and thus are seeking a tidy ending. Not because his performance against a division rival says something about his character, integrity or grit that ends any discussion about the wisdom of his subsequent usage patterns. They are entirely separate events. Less so if he gets killed tonight — perhaps some blame can be placed on the “distraction” of the past few days — but definitely so if he pitches well. In that case it will have said literally nothing about the controversy.

To the extent people assign such significance to this game it’s purely in the service of narrative creation. It is purely a function of dramatic arcs, not medicine, pitching mechanics, the health of ligaments, the wisdom of taking one’s dispute with one’s employer public or the moral hazard which attaches to team-player interactions.

Those questions will still exist tomorrow regardless of what Harvey does today.