Last July, Mets right-hander Matt Harvey set a franchise record with 11 strikeouts in his major-league debut ... while pitching just 5⅓ innings. And all Harvey's done since then is keep racking up the strikeouts. Some excellent details, along with a sort of caveat, from Tim Marchman in The Wall Street Journal:
Harvey is a strikeout artist, already one of the best ever when going by the raw numbers. Among all starting pitchers who have pitched at least as many innings as he has, only three have bettered his 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and just four did so through age 24. Since K-rate is usually considered the single best predictor of how well a pitcher will age, from this angle the inevitable comparisons to past Mets greats like Dwight Gooden, Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver make sense.
What this ignores, though, is that Harvey is pitching at a time when strikeouts mean less than they ever have. He is obviously brilliant, but the expectations may already be unfair.
Over the last two years, strikeouts are at a historic high, reaching 7.7 this year, a rather abrupt rise of 10% above what they were in 2009.
What this means is that Harvey's historic strikeout numbers are, in all, a bit less historic than they seem.
His K-rate of 10.0 per game is, on its own, the sixth-best such mark by a 24-year-old in major-league history. If you divide individual rate by league rate, though, it comes out that he's striking out a third more hitters than average—impressive, but no better than what Brett Myers did with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2005, and nothing close to what Gooden did at 19, when his K-rate was more than twice as high as the league's.
Brett Myers. Put that name in your mouth, swirl your tongue around a few times and make you sure you touch the insides of both cheeks. Eleven years ago, Myers was an outstanding prospect when he debuted in the majors with the Phillies. Lately he's been struggling with the Indians; if he loses his next decision, he'll have a perfect career record: 97-97.
None of which means that Harvey's not more impressive than Myers. It simply means that everything should be considered in context, and the strikeout context has changed quite a lot over the last decade. I mean, I keep seeing these things about Harvey and he's impressive but every time I want to jump in and say, "Yeah but these days everybody is striking out half the ballpark." Well, everybody except Kevin Correia. But Twins don't count. They're playing a different sport up there.
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