Mailbag: Matt Harvey

>Time for another mailbag question:

Hey Patrick,

I’m wondering what you think of Matt Harvey – is it a good idea to use a draft strategy that focuses on selecting clones of current Mets? Eleven of their first 19 picks were pitchers, 10 of them right-handed and nine of them at least 6-foot-3. Are the Mets going to the well one too many times, or can we hope to see another quality pitcher like Pelfrey emerge from this class?

– Steve S.

Well, let’s start by getting this out of the way: I’m not a prospect guru, nor do I play one on the Internet. I don’t know ANYTHING about projecting college or high school players. The only reasons I even assume Matt Harvey is a prospect are (1) the people that claim to be prospect gurus say he is decent and (2) the Mets selected him seventh overall so . . . high draft choice = good? That’s all I’m working with here.

Now that I’ve made it clear I’m just pulling things out of the air, let’s get down to business.

According to MLB’s DraftTracker, the Mets took 49 players in this year’s amateur draft. 29 are pitchers, and 22 of those pitchers are righthanded. 14 of those 22 right-handed pitchers are 6‘3“ or taller — so, as pointed out by Steve, just under 29% of the Mets picks were tall, righthanded pitchers. One of these pitchers happened to be their first round pick, Matt Harvey, highlighting the trend. Also, the Mets most successful pitcher this season has been a tall, right-handed college pitcher, Mike Pelfrey. It seems possible that the Mets are just trying to repeat a working formula. Monkey see, monkey draft. Or whatever.

For comparison’s sake, nine of the Mets 2009 picks fit the criteria, nine of their picks in 2008 were tall righthanders, and seven of their picks in 2007 were big righties. That makes it look like an unusual number of big north-paws to take this year. However, if you continue to go back into the past, the Mets took fifteen tall, righthanded pitchers in 2006, and they took thirteen in 2005 — so there is precedent for this type of drafting strategy in the Minaya era, for whatever reasons. Maybe the Mets’ general manager just has a type he can’t resist. He likes his pitchers tall, righthanded, and handsome. Or the Mets just have a bunch of XXL Mets shirts they need to give away.

OR . . . maybe it’s just that righthanded pitchers are more likely to be picked because they are tall. This (admittedly old) Sports Illustrated article suggests as much:

“Given a choice between a promising big pitcher and a promising small pitcher, scouts will take the big man every time. ‘I know of nine clubs who tell their scouts not to bother turning in recommendations on righthanded pitchers who aren’t at least 6’2″,’ says Tom House, a former major league pitcher and pitching coach who is a consultant to several teams.”

Per the above article, tall pitchers are supposed to have an easier time throwing hard with clean mechanics, and are supposed to be more durable because of that — though, on the health front, they do remain far more likely to comically bang their heads against low-hanging doorways in the locker room. Tall pitchers also release the ball closer to home plate — simply due to having a longer arm and stride — meaning that 95 MPH from a tall pitcher is going to reach the plate slightly quicker than 95 MPH from a short one. The hitters have slightly less time to react, making the pitches more effective. Despite the age of the article, I believe all of that still remains accepted as being true.

Basically, there are advantages in terms of durability and effectiveness that may make taller pitchers a better bet than their shorter counterparts. Also, because there are simply more righthanders than lefthanders, teams have greater freedom to pick the potentially more-durable, taller righthanders over a similar, shorter pitcher.

What that all means, is that I don’t think picking a whole bunch of tall righthanders is all that odd. In fact, it would really be weird if the Mets took a whole bunch of short righthanders, or just side-arming lefthanders, or just fat center fielders that vaguely look like Betty White. They may have just taken the best talent on the board, and by dumb luck a large number of those guys happened to be tall righties.

What does stick out as slightly odd is the high number of college players taken by the Mets — not that it’s necessarily a bad thing. College players (A) can usually be signed for less, as they can’t threaten to go to college like their high school counterparts can, and (B) reach the majors quicker because they’re not still-developing 18-years-olds worried about who they’re going to take to prom. Taking so many college guys — just 11 high schoolers — maybe reflects the Mets not wanting to spend too much on the draft, or prom dresses, as they have been accused of in the past. But maybe it reflects Omar Minaya feeling pressured to get quick results and hoping that a few of these college players will be on the express 7 train to Citi Field, ala Joe Smith in 2007 and Pelfrey in 2006. It could be a little of both . . . or maybe, again, it’s just more dumb luck from taking the best players on the board. It might not reflect much of anything.

So the million dollar question remains: What do I think of Matt Harvey? Well, his parents gave him two first names — you know, just in case he loses one — and he is reportedly tall and righthanded. And . . . that’s all I got.

Just for the heck of it, Omar Minaya has taken three other tall righthanded pitchers in the first round with the Mets. Let’s compare:

– One is Eddie Kunz, who pitched well enough in the minors to get called up in ‘08, quickly surrendered his first home run since his freshman year of college, and was sent back down. Things have not gone well since. He proceeded to have a miserable season as a reliever in AAA in 2009 (5.02 ERA, 31 walks in 61 innings), was being converted into a starter in AA this season, with not-so-great results (36 walks in 57.2 innings), and is now apparently a reliever again.

– One is Steve Brad Holt, who blew away batters in high-A ball (54 strikeouts in 43.1 innings) before grinding to a halt in AA (7.57 ERA over 88 innings in ‘09 and ‘10). Steve Brad Holt!

– The third tall righty is Mike Pelfrey, who has the 7th lowest ERA in the National League this season, the 8th lowest FIP, 8th most WAR among NL pitchers, has been generally awesome, and now only looks goofy when in the batter’s box. He also has a whole bunch of wins, if you still like that sort of thing.

So that’s one winner out of three tries, though things could easily turn around for Brad Holt, or for Eddie Kunz I suppose.

This is a laughably small group of players to base any real conclusions on. That being said, the general success rate (success here being defined as 1 career WAR or greater) for ALL of the Mets first round picks ever has also been about one in three. That sounds reasonable for Harvey — there’s a one-in-three chance he’ll reach the majors and be decent.

But that’s not a fun prediction, so I’ll just go the bolder route: Matt Harvey will reach the majors next year, win 512 games in his career, strikeout 5,715 batters, throw 111 shutouts, name his sons “Turner” and “Citizens Bank” because of how much he likes pitching against the Braves and Phillies in Atlanta and Philadelphia, will correctly predict the team to beat in the National League East every season, and will win two Cy Young awards and eight “Matt Harvey” awards.

And that’s what I think of Matt Harvey, based only on knowing which hand he throws with, that he went to college, and that other people think he’s good.<
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For future mailbag questions, email me, or @ twitter here. Send me emails, they make me feel warm and fuzzy inside — plus, you’ll probably get a hilariously long answer to your three sentence question.

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