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)
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)
Baseball’s postseason has changed—and so has everything you thought you knew about winning in October. The keys to becoming a 21st-century champ? Get hits with runners in scoring position. Put the bat on the ball and jump on every chance to score. And with the strikeout rate at an all time high, postseason success begins with hitters who avoid the K (page 42).
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said, “When putting a roster together, we’re always looking for balance. We want some players who hit for power, for extra bases and we always like guys that get on base. What you’re trying to avoid is somebody who strikes out a lot and is not a run producer.”
Over the last decade, two of Nationals manager Davey Johnson’s children have died and he almost lost his own life from a ruptured appendix, but today he is the oldest manager in baseball guiding the league’s second-youngest team to its first postseason. Johnson hadn’t managed in the big leagues in more than 10 years when Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo called him in June 2011 to take over the team. Since then, the Nationals have been run the way Davey chooses and his players are thriving (page 60).
Johnson is described by utilityman Mark DeRosa as “Unfiltered”. This demeanor comes out when asked if the Nationals could have handled their situation with Stephen Strasburg the same way the Braves have handled their young ace Kris Medlen. He said, “No! It’s a crock of s— what they’re doing with Medlen. It ain’t anywhere close [to Strasburg]. They’re trying to act like geniuses. Here’s the deal. And their whole life they’re raised to go through a certain process at certain times of the year. And ballplayers go through them in the spring. Now you take Doc Halladay or anybody, and if you start varying that—don’t let him [pitch] for a month? You don’t what’s going to happen.” Read the rest of this entry »