New York Mets ace Matt Harvey is the most fascinating young power arm in baseball, writes senior writer Tom Verducci in this week’s Sports Illustrated. Harvey, who appears on SI’s cover with the headline “The Dark Knight of Gotham”, has taken New York by storm thanks to four plus pitches and a chip on his shoulder from a draft slight six years ago. “In an era dominated by pitchers, Matt Harvey has the ferocity of stuff and of will to rise above all of them,” says Verducci. (PAGE 64)
Harvey’s blazing start—he is 4-0 with 62 strikeouts and a 1.44 ERA—brings up memories of Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden, homegrown power pitchers who helped the Mets to their only world championships. “I want to be that guy,” says Harvey, “when they know you’re starting against them, they go, ‘Oh, crap.’ ” (PAGE 66)
Verducci notes that Harvey was groomed to become a great power pitcher with disciplined mechanics by his father, Ed, who coached Matt in high school in Connecticut. Ed always told his son that if he maintains his mechanics, nobody’s better. “He saw me coach for a long time,” Ed says. I always tried to have a level of excellence with how I wanted my teams to play. Maybe he saw some of that.” (PAGE 66)
Harvey declined a $1 million offer to sign out of high school when he was picked later than expected by the Angels in the third round of the 2007 draft. He enrolled at North Carolina, where he initially struggled. He later reestablished his status as a top prospect, and the Mets chose him with the seventh overall pick of the 2010 draft. “What happened when I was 18 will be in the back of my mind,” Harvey says of the ’07 draft. “That was the biggest thing in my career.” (PAGE 68)
Now, Harvey’s signature pitch is a 97-mph fastball. Verducci notes that the rest of his repertoire includes “a roundhouse 1-to-7 curveball, a changeup that seems to float into the ether and, most recently, a tight, hard slider that reaches 92 (PAGE 65).” Verducci thinks Harvey’s best comparison may be with Roger Clemens. “His arm goes stock straight behind him as he shows the ball to second base while sitting on a bent back leg—just as the Rocket did.” (PAGE 65)
Like Clemens, Harvey wants to own the game. When pitching coach Dan Warthen told him that he could win 17 games if he threw 210 innings, Harvey said, “If I throw 210 I’m winning 20.” (PAGE 70)
With the NBA and NHL playoffs in full steam, daily baseball games and much more in the world of sports, there’s a chance you couldn’t get to all of the great content on SI.com this week. Inside SI has you covered. Here’s a selection of some of the top Sports Illustrated stories and video productions from the past week.
SI announced 10 finalists for its inaugural College Athlete of the Year.
Richard Deitsch reviews Fox Sports 1’s new big hires and more in his weekly Media Circus column.
Jeff Pearlman reminisces about the USFL 30 years later
Ian Thompson says Steph Curry is the latest to establish himself as a star in the playoffs.
Lee Jenkins writes that Kevin Durant can only do so much for OKC.
Rob Mahoney lists five players who have disappointed in the playoffs so far. He also notes the biggest surprises of the playoffs so far.
Do the NBA Playoffs Underdogs stand a chance? Chris Mannix and Maggie Gray discuss the Warriors and Bulls (video).
Mannix discusses how the injuries of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Amar’e Stoudemire have affected their respective teams (video).
Sara Kwak says the Isles vs. Penguins has been the most thrilling series so far.
Allan Muir says the Senators showed their superiority over the shorthanded Habs.
While this week’s SI cover man Sidney Crosby worked his magic in the Penguins’ Game 5 Win, Eli Bernstein says the play of both goalies proved to be the difference.
Stu Hackel on how the NHL may change their policy on head shots.
Tom Verducci says expensive free agents are once again failing to meet expectations.
Jay Jaffe says Matt Harvey is fastest-starting Mets ace ever.
Cliff Cocoran provides this week’s Awards Watch.
SI.com’s Tom Verducci takes a look at the increasing strikeout rate around the MLB and asks if the Braves’ power can overcome their swing-and-miss ways (video).
The Tigers top Joe Lemire’s power rankings.
Peter King notes differing draft strategies, who will control the ’14 draft and more in this week’s MMQB.
Jim Trotter writes on how the California workers comp bill will have a lasting effect on NFL players.
Don Banks asks if betters days are coming for minority hires in the NFL?
Chris Burke on each team’s most pressing question as minicamp looms.
Micahael Bamberger writes that TV saved Tiger Woods from withdrawing from the Masters.
Gary Van Sickle says McIlroy, Stricker and Scott make TPC Sawgrass look easy
Andy Staples takes a stab at his post spring top 25.
Holly Anderson hands out her Sixth annual Switzies, which celebrate the ‘best’ of the 2013 offseason.
Stewart Mandel on how Ohio State aims to break the SEC’s title streak in 2013.
Rick Pitino talks Kentucky Derby, Final Four and 2013-14′s prospects in a Q&A with Pete Thamel.
Luke Winn gives out his second annual data-based hoops awards.
Bruce Jenkins writes that Madrid red clay is a welcome sight after 2012 left all feeling blue
In his weekly mailbag, Jon Wertheim wonders if Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens can find peace.
Grant Wahl provides updates on Alex Morgan, Frank Lampard and various MLS nuggets in his Planet Futbol Column.
Jonathan Wilsion says David Moyes is a safe choice for Manchester United, but comes with risk.
Sid Lowe writes that Jose Mourinho’s separation from Real Madrid getting messy.
Floyd Mayweather tops Chris Mannix’s Pound-For-Pound Top 15.
Floyd Mayweather talks about his title fight victory over Robert Guerrero, and looks ahead towards the rest of his multi-fight contract (video).
Jeff Wagenheim discusses Anderson Silva’s punishment, Johny Hendricks’ beard, and more in his MMA mailbag.
Lars Anderson on what we learned on a rainy, dark day at Talladega.
Carl Estes provides this week’s power rankings.
In a time where pitching has taken on more importance than ever before, the Rays have found success utilizing a pitching perspective that is both “youthful” and “entrepreneurial”. In this week’s issue of SI, senior writer Tom Verducci examines the Rays stern belief in growing their pitching from the ground level up and how it enabled them to create one of the best pitching programs in baseball—one that has led to them winning an average of 91.6 games during the last five seasons, good for third best in baseball. Tampa has become the Silicon Valley of pitching. Verducci writes:
“No franchise better understands how to identify, develop and maintain quality pitchers. The Rays are to pitching what Google is to algorithms.” (PAGE 53)
In 2012, the Rays had the lowest ERA in the American League (3.19) and held batters to the lowest average in 40 years of baseball all while operating with the third lowest payroll in the American League. The Rays find value by developing both the mental and physical strength of young pitching prospects and have them do so in a slow progression through their farm system. Unlike other low budget baseball teams, the Rays expect their major league pitchers to have entered every level of the minors and expect to have each player spend at least a year per level.
This pitching philosophy was adopted under the pretense that “the most valuable currency in today’s game isn’t just pitching – it’s healthy pitching, especially starting pitching, which accounts for 66% of major league innings and 71% of the wins,” explains Verducci. (PAGE 55)
Pitchers like Taylor Guerrieri, a hotshot high school prospect drafted by the Rays in 2011, have learned this philosophy the hard away. Upon being drafted Guerrieri was quoted saying: “I wouldn’t mind being up there in two years,” in regards to a major league debut. As we enter the 2013 season, Guerrieri will start at Class A Bowling Green and his starts will be strictly limited to 5 innings or 75 pitches. This isn’t because of lack of talent or confidence; it is purely part of the Rays development plan. They focus on developing arm strength that will lessen the risk of early injury in its up and coming pitchers.
James Shields, now a starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, knows this plan better than anybody else. Drafted by the Rays out of high school in 2000, he began at Hudson Valley and quickly moved through the levels of the Rays farm system. But after starting the season shakily with a weak arm in 2004 as part of the Double A in Montgomery, Shields was demoted. When Shields returned to spring training the following season after working out in the offseason with his cousin, former major league outfielder Aaron Rowand, his arm had sprung back to life and he devoted himself fully to the Rays shoulder strengthening program, a program that utilizes workout bands, dumbbells and weighted balls twice a week for thirty-minutes.
“No matter where I pitch,” explains David Price, the Rays current pitching ace, “I’m taking this program with me. It’s the best. I tell everybody that comes here, ‘You probably won’t be very good at these [exercises] for a year. It’s tough on your arm at first. It makes you pretty sore. But once you get acclimated to it, it’s great.’ If I didn’t do it now? I would feel it big time.” (PAGE 54)
Between the promotion of slow development, arm strengthening and the implementation of baseball analytics that expose every opponent’s weakness, the Tampa Rays have taken their cost-effective home grown pitching staff from small-time threat to elite status in only a matter of years. With David price leading the way, the Rays are a force to be reckoned with in the unusually vulnerable American League East in 2013.
Baseball Preview Features 42 pages of Scouting Reports; Stephen Strasburg, David Price,
Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, James Shields, and Clayton Kershaw on Six Regional Covers
Sports Illustrated predicts that the Washington Nationals will defeat the Tampa Rays for the 2013 World Series in the April 1, 2013 issue of SI, on newsstands Wednesday. The SI Baseball preview, which has six regional covers including one of Nationals’ ace Stephen Strasburg, features 42 pages of scouting reports with standings and playoff predictions, stat projections from rotowire.com and takes on every team from rival scouts.
In a profile on why the Nationals will win the World Series, senior writer Tom Verducci says that the they look a lot like manager Davey Johnson’s 1986 Mets team—and that the similarities will extend through October.
Verducci writes: “Like the ’86 Mets, the 2013 Nationals are the best team on paper at the start of the season. And like that championship team, Washington has young power pitching, a deep bullpen with multiple closers, a blend of power and speed, and an unmistakable swagger.” (PAGES 59-60)
The consensus from expert analysis in the SI Baseball Preview is that pitching, and strikeouts in particular, rule today’s game. In “Generation K”, Verducci writes on how swings and misses, which have increased in the major leagues for seven consecutive seasons, are changing the game: “As hitters accept strikeouts as a necessary cost of their search for power, pitchers are better equipped than ever to exploit that concession.” (PAGE 46)
Verducci finds that there has been a change in philosophy, as teams are less worried about their players striking out, as long as they produce power and runs. This coincides in an era that features pitchers who throw harder and with more movement, pitchers who have increased access to analytics and video that helps them exploit hitters’ weaknesses and teams that utilize power bullpen arms more frequently.
“More pitchers, more velocity, more movement, more strikes…Night after night, game after game, pitchers are asserting their power, three strikes at a time,” writes Verducci (PAGE 49).
Along with Strasburg (2nd SI cover), five additional star pitchers known for strikeouts are featured on regional covers of this week’s SI: David Price (2nd SI cover), Justin Verlander (3rd SI cover), C.C. Sabathia (2nd SI cover), James Shields (1st SI cover), and Clayton Kershaw (1st SI cover).
Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, who last season helped the Nats win their first NL East title in franchise history and won the NL Rookie of the Year, is on the cover of the Feb. 25, 2013 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, on newsstands Wednesday. This is the second time Harper has appeared on the cover, as he was featured on the June 8, 2009 SI when he was a 16 year-old prodigy at Las Vegas High School.
With the success of Harper, AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout and other first year stars, 2012 proved to be one of the most accomplished rookie classes in MLB history. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, senior writer Tom Verducci examines what Harper has in mind for his second season and whether or not he will fall victim to the most unscientific explanation in baseball mythology for second-season flops: the sophomore jinx. Will Harper and the rest of last year’s smashing rookie class be the next Eric Hosmer or Jason Heyward, players who struggled mightily in their second seasons? Verducci writes:
“Of the 32 pitchers and 48 position players who received Rookie of the Year Award votes from 2007 to ’11, 59 had a worse ERA or OPS in the follow-up act—a 74% attrition rate.” (PAGE 46)
Harper, who set teenage major league records last year for total bases (254), extra-base hits (57) and WAR (5.0), and ranked second all time amongst teenagers in homeruns (22) and runs (98), feels any talk of a sophomore slump is “stupid”. (PAGE 49)
“It’s not difficult to imagine Harper or Trout joining Cal Ripken (1983), Ryan Howard (2007) and Dustin Pedroia (2008) in the exclusive club of players to follow their Rookie of the Year act with an MVP.” (PAGES 46-47)
This offseason Harper bulked up (he now weighs 231 pounds after playing last season at 220) and studied video of himself and those he admires, such as lefty craftsmen Chase Utley and Joey Votto. Harper feels a player shouldn’t even put the idea of a bad sophomore campaign into one’s head. Harper says:
“I’m not going to put it my head. Sophomore slump? I was a sophomore in college and raked. Why can’t you rake in the big leagues?” (PAGE 49)
Harper is used to having his doubters. He was told he shouldn’t play varsity high school baseball at age 14, but he dominated. He was advised not to take his GED at age 16, but he got a 98. Harper was warned not to play junior college ball at 16 against mature 22 year olds throwing 94 mph, but he dominated again. While strenuous offseason preparation and previous experience silencing doubters may not get in Harper’s way, Verducci wonders:
“Maybe, more than pitchers and scouts searching for a weaknesses with the fervor of geneticists, more than all the scrutiny young stars attract in the Internet age, what brings life to the idea of a sophomore jinx is the added weight of expectations. Maybe having succeeded the first time is the real curse.” (PAGE 51)