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Pitching Mechanics Analysis
Matt Harvey

Generally, when I write about the pitching mechanics of a certain pitcher, I have no connection to them; I have never met them and have never even talked to them. However, that's not the case when it comes to Matt Harvey.

A Concerned Father

In late 2007, as Matt was getting ready for his freshman baseball season at North Carolina, I was contacted by his dad, Ed. Ed had come across my work on the Inverted W and thought it had some merit -- I believe because he had been told to look into teaching the Inverted W to Matt, researched it, and decided not to -- and asked me to look at Matt's pitching mechanics and see if I saw anything that looked problematic.

I told him that I liked what I saw.

There was no sign of the Inverted W in Matt's arm action and, just as importantly, there was no sign of a general timing problem.

While Matt did have a similar arm swing and got to the same T Position as Mark Prior -- with his arms extended out to his sides as he broke his hands -- Matt didn't come out of that position by lifting with his elbows as Prior did. Instead, he did what comes naturally to most people and kept his elbows just below the level of his shoulders as he externally rotated his pitching arm and scap loaded.

Yes his glove side wasn't perfect and scap load was a bit more than most (due to what he did with his glove side arm), but it was well within the range of what you see in long-lived pitchers, his elbows stayed below the level of his shoulders, and he had never had any problems with the front of his shoulder.

Matt Harvey 2007

Matt Harvey
December 2007

In the clips above and below, notice how Matt's arm gets up and into the Ready Position just before his front foot plants and his shoulders start to rotate. As he goes into foot plant, you can see his pitching arm externally rotate 90 degrees so that it gets to a good position.

Matt Harvey 2007

Matt Harvey
December 2007

What Matt exhibited was an arm action that was generally quite similar to the arm actions of Roy Oswalt and Justin Verlander. Matt also had the nice pelvic and shoulder tilt, and high front shoulder into foot plant, that you see in Justin Verlander.

The only thing I didn't like about Matt's delivery was his glove-side action. Among other thinds, I didn't like how Matt finished with his glove behind him because I thought it would leave Matt vulnerable to come-backers. I advised Ed that Matt's glove side was the biggest thing that he needed to work on.

Oh Fudge

In September 2012 the Mets came through St. Louis. I went down to the stadium to watch Andres Torres play and Matt Harvey pitch. I was excited because I assumed I was going to get some footage of the next Justin Verlander. Footage that I could show to young pitchers and use to teach them what they should do.

What I got was something else.

A different Matt Harvey than I had seen coming out of high school.

Where before Matt did a great job of getting his pitching arm up on time, what I saw was a pitching arm that stalled; that started to get up and then just hung there for a number of frames.

Matt Harvey 2012

Matt Harvey
September 2012

The result was that his arm was late and out of position at the moment his front foot planted and his shoulders started to turn.

Matt Harvey 2012

Matt Harvey
September 2012

Where before Matt Harvey...

  • Had a very smooth, standard, hand-driven arm swing.
  • Showed the ball to third base.
  • Moved out with tilted hips and a raised front shoulder.

What I now saw was a pitcher who...

  • Lifted with his elbows as he came out of the T Position.
  • Looked like he was trying to keep his fingers on top of the ball as long as possible.
  • Showed the ball to center field.
  • Moved out with largely level shoulders.

...and whose arm took FOREVER to get up to the Ready Position and was late as a result.

I vividly recall the moment when I first looked at the video clips above of Matt Harvey. It was like opening a present on Christmas morning and knowing what it was and knowing that it was going to awesome and then seeing that it wasn't what you thought it was and that it most certainly wasn't awesome.

I tried to contact Ed Harvey with my concerns and some questions about whether Matt had consciously changed anything. However, it's been five years since I was last in touch with Ed and my e-mail bounced.

What Happened?

So what happened to Matt Harvey's pitching mechanics?

What changed and why?

In May of 2013 I was contacted by a writer to help out with a New York Magazine piece on Matt Harvey. When asked what I thought was Matt Harvey's secret, I talked about an animated GIF I had recently come across on Fangraphs that showed the consistency of Matt Harvey's release point...

Matt Harvey Release Point

Matt Harvey's Release Point

...and how that contributed to his deceptiveness. Those comments made it into the piece in the form of the graphic below.

Matt Harvey Release Point

The Secrets of Matt Harvey's Success

During that interview, I also made some comments about Matt Harvey's pitching mechanics that didn't make it into the piece.[1] The gist of what I said was that, while I was very impressed with his performance to date, I had come across some pictures of Matt Harvey, and had in my possession a number of video clips, that were a cause for some concern.[2]

As it turns out, the explanation for what I was seeing, and why Matt Harvey's pitching mechanics had changed, can be found later on in that New York Magazine piece...

In college, Harvey had clean mechanics but could rush his throwing motion. Since, he’s focused on keeping his windup "long," extending his throwing arm for as long as possible, then letting the momentum of his body drag it forward. This adds a couple of miles per hour to his fastball.

At some point after high school, in college or the minor leagues, somebody changed Matt Harvey's pitching mechanics.

They taught him a trick.

They taught him to rush; to get, and to keep, his arm disconnected from the forward motion of his body for as long as possible.

The quote in the New York Magazine piece implies that the goal was to keep him from rushing. However...

  • I never saw Matt Harvey exhibit a problem with rushing before.
  • I now see Matt Harvey exhibit a problem with habitual rushing.

If anything, the changes to Matt Harvey's mechanics "worked" not by fixing his problem with rushing but by making him more consistent.

Matt Harvey now rushes with nearly every pitch.

Unfortunately, while this trick undoubtedly worked -- Matt Harvey is throwing harder than he was in high school -- it also came with a cost, a cost that Matt Harvey is now going to have to pay, and hopefully before his shoulder starts to wear down.[3]

It's the Timing, Stupid

As I discuss at length in my in-progress Inverted W webbook, recent research into the Inverted W backs up something that I came to realize a few years ago; the problem with the Inverted W isn't the position itself, but the impact that that position has on the pitcher's timing.

Even though Matt Harvey doesn't have the glaringly obvious Inverted W that Zack Wheeler does...

Zack Wheeler

Zack Wheeler's Inverted W

...he does have the timing problem that is the real problem with the Inverted W.

If I Ran the Zoo

So what would I tell Matt or Ed Harvey if they were to contact me and ask me how they should deal with Matt's current predicament?

First, and like Michael Pineda, Matt Harvey needs to immediately ditch the things that he was taught about keeping his arm action long, keeping his fingers on top of the ball, and showing the ball to second base. While a long arm action isn't necessarily bad -- Roy Oswalt's arm held up just fine -- what Matt Harvey does isn't conducive to the longevity of either the elbow or the shoulder.

You can see a large part of the problem in the clip below if you watch how Matt Harvey breaks his hands.

After breaking his hands, Matt Harvey gets to the T Position that all long armers do. However, the difference between what Matt Harvey does and what Roy Oswalt does is that Roy Oswalt's forearm is looser and at neutral position at this position...

Roy Oswalt

Roy Oswalt

...which allows him to get his arm up to the proper position, keeps his arm swing smooth, and keeps his arm from dragging.

Roy Oswalt

Roy Oswalt

In contrast, Matt Harvey pronates too soon and shows the ball to center field or second base. That creates the tension that causes his arm to stall and is the major contributor to his elbow problems.

Matt Harvey Sports Illustrated Cover

Matt Harvey

I know that increasing numbers of people teach what Matt Harvey does -- how he pronates early and shows the ball to second base -- but, while that may often give a pitcher a velocity boost, it is problematic physiologically and is contributing to the epidemic of elbow injuries of pitchers of all ages.

Roger Clemens Video Clip

Roger Clemens

Contrary to what the Sports Illustrated article about Matt Harvey implies, Roger Clemens most certainly did not show the ball to second base. Heck he wasn't even a long-armer. Instead, and like virtually every great right-handed pitcher, Roger Clemens showed the ball to third base.

Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens

Given that his learning to show the ball to second base coincided with the boost in his velocity, won't changing this cost Matt Harvey some velocity?

Almost certainly.

However, the tear in Matt Harvey's UCL demonstrates that his current pitching mechanics are putting a load on his body that his elbow -- and likely his shoulder -- can't tolerate.

That makes any concerns about the impact of a change to Matt Harvey's pitching mechanics on his velocity a moot point.

Matt Harvey can't just keep doing what he's doing and expect to last.

What's more, I'm not convinced that Matt Harvey has to give up all of his new-found velocity. I see a farily common inefficiency in how he uses his lower body that suggests that he has a few more miles per hour in reserve and that he can develop with some hard work.

Finally, Matt Harvey still needs to learn how to pitch. To a large degree, his current approach is based on blowing people away with his four-seam fastball. Given his exceptional deception...

Matt Harvey Release Point

Matt Harvey's Release Point

...and his broad arsenal of plus pitches, Matt Harvey would seem well-suited to backing off a few miles per hour and focus on getting people out by locating his pitching and mixing up his pitch selection.

That is the strategy that is used by most of the greatest pitchers of all time, and is something that Matt Harvey still has plenty of time to learn to do.

Notes

1. The interview was conducted over the phone, so I don't have a transcript to prove what I said. However, I did send a follow-up e-mail to the writer that said...

FYI, here are some random pictures from around the internet that show the timing problem that I am talking about and that concerns me.
Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey

Given that his front foot is down, his pitching arm should be more vertical.

2. I also discussed my concerns about Matt Harvey's pitching mechanics during a phone interview on the Steve Czaban show on May 9, 2013. My comments about Matt Harvey start at around 12:55 into the interview.

3. I recently came across a quote from Baseball America from after the 2010 draft that indicated that others noticed that Matt Harvey changed something in his arm action...

Scouts agree that Harvey's arm action is longer now than it was in 2007 but they aren't sure why. It affects his command, as it's harder for him to repeat his delivery and find the same release point. When he does, Harvey has explosive stuff, and he has worked harder than ever, thanks to improved maturity, to improve his balance and tempo.
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