Matt Harvey shining a light on the analytical revolution
Many of us whose lives have been awash in playing, watching and appreciating baseball have grown increasingly sour in recent years, a byproduct of the analytical revolution and the morass of confusing acronyms that accompany every pitch.
Intellectually, it's not a giant leap to assume that analytics are a valuable measuring tool. Yet few, if any, of the metrics are explained by the people who cover and broadcast games, leaving us to interpret exit velocity, launch angle, spin rate, BABIP, WAR, FIP and FRAA — and more importantly their relevance and context.
And while analytics may often accurately contradict old-school thinking, the inverse also applies: Their purported intellectualism purposely creates contrarian opposition to more traditional ideas.
Yet just when hope felt more remote than Minsk, along comes Matt Harvey's potential resurrection story that helps explain the heretofore esoteric and convoluted analytical rhythms.
Harvey, the former savant at Fitch and "Dark Knight" of the big, bad city, has spent a promising spring pitching for the Baltimore Orioles. But it's what he did this past winter, at the Baseball Performance Center in New Jersey, that illuminates the vagaries of the analytical revolution.
Injuries — specifically Tommy John surgery in 2013 and thoracic outlet surgery in 2016 — derailed Harvey's ascendancy. Ah, but a few days in Jersey working with trainers who use technology to develop pitchers, have shown Harvey a new light for the way. It begins with the difference between pitching and throwing.
"Instead of me searching and trying to figure out what I am doing wrong and how to fix it, (Darren Holmes and Chris Holt of the Baseball Performance Center) have been able to pinpoint that and kind of show me videos from when I threw before," Harvey said on Camdenchat.com, a website that covers the Orioles.
"Whether it's load your back hip a little bit more or you know, create some scapular flexion (a movement where the scapula, or the shoulder bone, moves laterally away from the spinal column) here, look you used to do this and you're not doing it anymore ... they've been unbelievable with that and obviously the work's not done. We're not satisfied and we're going to keep pounding those mechanics and the work in so that everything can fall into place and just concentrate on getting people out and executing each pitch."
The Orioles, as many teams do now, used a specialized, high-tech camera able to shoot thousands of images per second, to analyze Harvey's delivery. The camera, able to detect nuance, ultimately bettered Harvey's spin rate, horizontal and vertical break, release point and pronation. Camdenchat.com reported that "According to Baseball Performance Center, Harvey showed up to them with a four-seam fastball that had ticked up in velocity to 93-97 mph, but had no "carry," or "vertical break."
Translation: It was flat and hittable.
This camera, among other technology, showed Harvey that intensely subtle changes in things like grip and release point could drastically alter the often-used-but-rarely-explained "spin rate," or how the amount of spin on a pitch changes its trajectory. The same pitch thrown at the same velocity will end up in a different place depending on how much it spins.
Baseball Performance Center also showed Harvey the difference between his 2020 delivery in Kansas City and his 2015 delivery with the Mets. Last season, his delivery was, per Camdenchat.com, "wide open, his fingers unable to get behind the ball, and therefore to produce spin."
This is all welcome news for Harvey, 31, who still thinks he has some gas in the tank, as Bill Parcells liked to say. He's not alone. Harvey allowed a run in four innings over the weekend against the Yankees.
"Matt looks good," Yankees outfielder/first baseman Jay Bruce (Harvey's teammate with the Mets) told the New York Post. "Obviously, he's pitching with a little different stuff than he pitched with the Mets. My hope is that he's healthy. It sounds like he has a chance to make the team, and I wish him all the best. He had some bumps in the road there for a few years, but it looks like he's back on track."
Harvey probably always knew the difference between being a pitcher and a thrower. Now he's embracing it through a dive into technology and analytics.
Here's hoping Harvey's northward trend continues. And his story gets shared. Analytics in context. What a novel concept.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro