The numbers aren’t particularly good, but the Orioles got exactly what they needed from the veteran right-hander.
Matt Harvey’s season is over. A right knee ailment that has bothered him for weeks finally pushed the righty to the 60-day IL last week, ending his year and freeing up a roster spot for the pitching-starved Orioles down the stretch.
His year-end statistical line is not particularly attractive. Over 28 starts, Harvey went 6-14 with a 6.27 ERA and 95 strikeouts over 127.2 innings. All in, that was worth -0.3 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. Those numbers shouldn’t be too far off from what the O’s front office would have expected when they signed Harvey to a minor league deal with the promise of $1 million if he made the major league roster.
Over his previous two seasons with the Angels and Royals, Harvey threw a total of 71.1 innings and had a 7.82 ERA. The simple fact that Harvey essentially made it through an entire 162-game season represents a significant step forward in his career, and although the numbers are underwhelming, it should be enough to earn him another look from a major league team when spring training rolls around.
The question becomes whether or not the Orioles will be one of those teams to be interested. In all likelihood, the team is going to be rather bad again next season, and unless they make significant additions during the offseason, then the same holes that exist on the pitching staff now will exist come February.
If you dig a bit, there is reason to believe that Harvey pitched better than his stats would indicate. His 4.60 FIP is a run-and-a-half lower than his 6.27 ERA, and his .331 batting average against on balls in play is nearly 30 points higher than his .302 career mark. For that reason, FanGraphs actually believes that Harvey was worth 1.7 WAR this season. That’s pretty great value for $1 million, and is the second-best mark on the Orioles’ pitching staff behind John Means.
Plus, there are the intangibles that come along with employing a pitcher as experienced as Harvey.
“He’s incredible, honestly,” Orioles ace John Means said. “He’s taught me a lot in how to push through some things. He’s dealing with what’s going on with him right now, and just pushing through it and starting and making a start every five days. It’s incredible to see what he’s doing, going to the bullpen and doing everything right and never coming to the field complaining.
It’s impossible to quantify what those sorts of lessons are worth to a young pitching staff, but given the struggles that many of the club’s hurlers have gone through this season (injury-related or otherwise) it seems relevant.
But the harsh reality is that the Orioles’ pitching needs to take a somewhat significant step forward next season and begin developing a winning culture again with some of their highest-profile prospects nearing the big leagues.
As a group, the starting staff has had the worst ERA, FIP, and xFIP in baseball this year. That is not Harvey’s fault alone, of course. Injuries to Means and Bruce Zimmermann paired with some atrocious performances elsewhere have added up to a nightmare season.
Bringing Harvey back is unlikely to do much to change those fortunes. But he is a known commodity, and it wouldn’t seem as though his price tag is likely to increase much ahead of 2022. Those two factors could make him an attractive re-sign option.
It would be malpractice for Mike Elias to not acquire legitimate reinforcements for the team’s pitching staff sometime in the near future. It is a requirement if they are going to maximize the careers of Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez among others. But this upcoming offseason may be just a touch too early to start pulling those levers given their organizational strategy, unless they are overwhelmed by value on a trade or free agent deal. Harvey could be the beneficiary of that strategy.
Regardless of the many disappointments that this season has brought from a pitching perspective for the Orioles, it’s tough to say this has not been a successful campaign for Harvey personally. He was back in a big league rotation full-time for the first time in years, and his numbers were an improvement over what he did for Kansas City, in a reduced role, last summer.
Plus, he gave the Orioles what they hoped to generate from the cavalcade of veterans they brought to Sarasota this past spring. They needed someone that would simply show up every fifth day and pitch. For the most part, Harvey did that. Yes, there were the occasional implosions, and it wouldn’t have been good enough for most starting rotations, but it was ideal for this roster, and it was worth far more than the $1 million price tag.