Oakland A’s Bring In Matt Harvey For Some Dark Knight Depth

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The Oakland A’s, who have built a playoff contender using an endless supply of middling starting pitchers, added another one when they inked Matt Harvey to a minor league deal. Harvey, once an ace with the New York Mets, is now simply trying to prove he still belongs on a Major League team. He’s not a shoo-in to play games in Oakland this season, but it’s likely we’ll see him in green and gold at some point, either as a fill in starter or reliever.

There are many ways to tell the story of Harvey’s fall, but here is a quick one — his strikeout minus walk percentage each year since 2013: 23.2%, 20%, 12.7%, 4.6%, 14.2%, 3.8%. This stat is one of the very best for determining future performance, and Harvey has steadily declined from elite to basically unplayable. The only way to stick around with low strikeout and high walk rates is to prevent home runs and keep the ball on the ground, but Harvey is giving up nearly two long balls per nine innings this season. His ERA is over seven, and his most generous ERA estimator, xFIP, still puts him at 5.46.

So, what are the A’s thinking? For starters, this is a no-risk move. The A’s have not dedicated any real money or, so far, a roster spot to Harvey. The gamble here is that a little more health, and perhaps pitching out of the bullpen could bring back some of Harvey’s ability. Harvey never really got going as a Los Angeles Angel. He had a rocky first two months, went on the injured list with a back strain, returned for two starts in July, and then was released. He lost two miles an hour on his fastball from the start of the season. If he can get back to where he was at the end of last season and the start of this one, around 94 MPH, he can attack the zone more and get better results.

From the start of August 2018 through the end of the season, he was consistently averaging 94 MPH on his fastball, and he looked like the median A’s pitcher of 2019. He struck out a batter per inning, kept the walks to a reasonable 1.8 per nine innings, ran a 4.58 ERA and deserved something under four according to his peripheral stats. If that guy can reappear, he might even see time in the A’s rotation.

More likely, the A’s might see if a stint in the bullpen will improve Harvey’s velocity and Oakland’s most glaring need. Last season, every close lead was protected by the flamethrowing Lou Trivino and the nearly unhittable Blake Treinen. This season, both have been surprisingly hittable, and the bullpen has been a constant work in progress. If Harvey can help get the ball to closer Liam Hendriks, he will be a huge asset at a prorated league minimum salary.

Meanwhile, the A’s won’t have to test this theory against Major League hitters with their season on the line. Harvey can prove he’s worthy for the Las Vegas Aviators, Oakland’s triple-A squad. If he’s late 2018 Harvey, when he was with the Reds, the A’s will call him up. If he’s Angels Harvey they won’t. If he’s Mets ace Harvey, then we have jumped to a different timeline in the multiverse and have bigger things to think about. Either way, he costs next to nothing, and that’s worth the gamble.