The staff here at TBOH bringing you Philadelphia Phillies coverage year-round was polled for their choices on the biggest awards in Major League Baseball for the 2015 season, and our consensus selection as the National League Comeback Player of the Year was New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey.
Harvey, who was named the winner of this same NL Comeback Player honors by both Major League Baseball and The Sporting News already, received the votes of five of our six staff members.
Supreme talent has never been a problem for Harvey, who the Mets selected with the 7th overall pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of North Carolina. Instead, it was the modern pitching bugaboo of Tommy John surgery due to elbow problems that have slowed the big righthander.
Harvey, who will turn 27 years of age during spring training of 2016, had his surgery in October of 2013. That followed a strong first full MLB season that previous summer in which the man known as ‘The Dark Knight’ went 9-5 in 26 starts, allowing just 135 hits in 178.1 innings with a 191/31 K:BB ratio.
As he tried to make his comeback from that surgery during the 2014 calendar year, Harvey suffered a few setbacks and bouts of ineffectiveness during his rehab process, his recovery slower than some other pitchers have faced.
In 2015 he was able to return to the mound and take a full turn in the Mets’ starting rotation, but he was not happy with his performances. He was still an effective, winning pitcher. Through June 10th and his first dozen starts, Harvey had a 6-4 record with a 3.62 ERA, allowing 69 hits in 79.2 innings with an 82/14 K:BB ratio.
But Harvey believed there was better to come, and his patience and hard work was finally rewarded. At that point he was 20 months removed from his surgical procedure, and it all clicked in, for both Harvey and the team.
From his June 16th start through the end of the season, Harvey made 17 starts. He allowed 87 hits over 109.2 innings with a 106/23 K:BB ratio. His ERA was just 2.05, and he had just a .213 batting average against during those three and a half months.
Meanwhile, the Mets made key moves to improve their offensive attack. Harvey and the rest of the New York pitching staff were major beneficiaries, as the club took off and pulled away from the Washington Nationals during August and September, winning the NL East by 7 games.
New York’s first division crown since 2006, just their 2nd in the last 27 years, was just the beginning. The team edged out the Los Angeles Dodgers, champions of the NL West and built for a deep postseason run, in five hard-fought NLDS games. They then swept the up-n-coming Chicago Cubs in four straight in the NLCS to advance to the franchise’ first World Series since 2000, where they were finally defeated in five games by the Kansas City Royals.
As the season wore on, and it became more obvious that New York had a great shot at a postseason berth, questions continually arose regarding an innings limit for Harvey during this first season back. Miscommunication between the player, his high-profile agent Scott Boras, and the team appeared to be at the crux of the issue.
But Harvey would ultimately take the ball all the way through. He started once in both the NLDS and NLCS, winning both, and then made two World Series starts against the Royals. Overall he allowed 21 hits in 26.2 innings with a 27/8 K:BB ratio during the playoffs.
As a main division rival of the Phillies, Harvey of course faced the team during the 2015 season. Two of his three starts came early in the season, and one towards the end. On April 14th at Citi Field, Harvey allowed five hits over six innings with eight strikeouts and no walks in a 6-5 victory.
Then on May 8th at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies beat him 3-1 thanks to what will surely be one of the last great hurrahs by the 2008 World Series heroes: a Cole Hamels’ gem and a Ryan Howard home run. Finally, on September 2nd, the Phils got to him for nine hits and four earned runs, but the Mets’ greatly improved offense exploded for a 9-4 victory at Citi Field.
Harvey is still highly affordable contractually, entering his first season of arbitration eligibility. He will surely receive a significant raise from his bargain $614,000 salary, possibly being awarded twenty times that amount.
He will not become a free agent until after the 2018 season. So the Mets, if they want, will have Harvey around to lead a young rotation forward over at least the next three seasons. That is not good news for the Phillies and the rest of the NL East.
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