Before we get into Matt Harvey vs. Miguel Batista, let’s briefly review the work of recent Mets making the jump from Triple-A to the Major Leagues midseason. The list is incomplete and short. But whatever, here’s some guys who did what Matt Harvey may soon do:
Chris Schwinden —
Triple-A: 26 starts, 3.95 ERA, 3.80 FIP
Majors: four starts, 4.71 ERA, 3.03 FIP
Schwinden pitched decently in his four-game showcase last September, and did not during his 8.2 innings with the Major League version Mets this season. Those three 2012 games aside, Schwinden has been an effective pitcher for the past two seasons. So if the Mets are unsold on Batista and don’t want to rush Harvey, Schwinden might be the unsatisfying, disappointing middle ground.
Jeremy Hefner —
Triple-A: eight starts, 2.96 ERA, 3.44 FIP
Majors: three starts, 6.89 ERA, 3.64 FIP
Hefner walked only two batters in his 30.1 innings pitched, but he also struck out only 17 and allowed 38 hits. So he may have pitched too much in the zone. Or whatever. I don’t know. You come up with something!
Dillon Gee —
Triple-A: 28 starts, 4.96 ERA, 4.01 FIP
Majors: five starts, 2.18 ERA, 4.20 FIP
Gee’s the strange case here, because his Major League ERA improved over his Minor League numbers in his first few starts. Out of the (small sample of) five pitchers here, Gee was the only one to post a better ERA in the Majors than the Minors. And Gee and Schwinden are the only two to be not-terrible their first few Major League starts.
Jon Niese —
Triple-A: seven starts, 3.40 ERA, 4.11 FIP
Majors: three starts, 7.07 ERA, 5.13 FIP
Remember Jon Niese’s first three starts? He was bad. Niese is a good pitcher now and was a decent prospect at the time, but the Major Leagues are scary and hard the first time through, even for ready-ish prospects who do eventually figure it out.
Mike Pelfrey — (2007 stats)
Triple-A: 14 starts, 4.01 ERA, 4.04 FIP
Majors: 13 starts, 5.57 ERA, 5.06 FIP
Yeah, same thing. Pelfrey actually debuted in 2006, but he’s got more Triple-A and Major League stats from 2007, so we’ll look at those.
So now getting into the actual point of the post, here are Batista’s and Harvey’s numbers this season:
Miguel Batista — (as a starter)
Majors: four starts, 4.00 ERA, 5.28 FIP
Matt Harvey —
Triple-A: 19 starts, 3.34 ERA, 3.50 FIP
So the Mets’ decision here rides on two questions:
1. Will Matt Harvey pitch better than Miguel Batista over 10 or so starts for the remainder of this season?
2. Will Matt Harvey’s long-term development be positively or negatively affected by a promotion now?
I see the answers as:
1. I’m not sure Harvey will be better than Batista over 10 starts. If you look at other Mets pitching callups from recent seasons, most of these young pitchers struggled in their first few Major League starts; some struggled to ERAs in the 5.00-7.00 range. The following statement is obvious but stands to repetition: The Major Leagues are much harder than Triple-A. The adjustment is probably a little scary and intimidating for even the toughest young pitchers, and good Triple-A pitchers can and often do get rocked in the Majors. There’s no guarantee that Harvey will come up and pitch anything but terribly in his first three or four starts, or in his first ten starts for that matter. Harvey is pitching well in Triple-A, but he’s not dominating. And even young pitchers who dominate the Minors can struggle (see the Rays’ Matt Moore this season).
On the other hand: Miguel Batista, who is probably good for a 4.50-5.00 ERA for the remainder of the season, isn’t an inspiring alternative. I think Harvey will be better than Batista for 15-20 starts, but the two’s performances will be closer over the 10 or so remaining starts the Mets need to fill. But Harvey is not a clear upgrade for 10 starts in 2012; I’m not sure the argument for Harvey holds up from that angle, at least not yet. Which leads into our second answer, regarding Harvey’s development:
2. So the (realistic) best-case scenario is that Harvey is ready and pitches to a 3.50-4.00 ERA with the Mets for 10 starts. The worst-case is that Harvey struggles and descends into an existential crisis, leaves pitching to join a ninja monastery, and emerges years later as a crime-fighting vigilante. Which really isn’t that bad, all things considered. But a more realistic worst-case is that Harvey is rushed, struggles, and figures out a way to merely get by instead of truly succeed, i.e., throw nothing but fastballs low in the zone. That’s the risk that comes with any promotion: The player could improve, or implode or figure out how to just get by.
Do the benefits of Harvey-over-Batista outweigh the risk of screwing up a pitching prospect? It’s close. I’m not sure the benefits do outweigh the risks yet. Harvey’s performance would need to be a clear, clear upgrade over Batista’s performance to justify maybe-rushing him. And it’s not yet. Young pitchers struggle transitioning to the Majors, and I’d bet Harvey does the same.
But two weeks from now, things may look much clearer. Especially if Harvey throws up a few gems and Miguel Batista throws up some lumps of coal. But should the Mets hold off on Harvey until August, I think they’re making a smart, if boring, call.