Hunter Harvey was on track to start the 2020 season in the Orioles bullpen, maybe even as the closer if Mychal Givens continued to struggle. A first round pick in 2013, he was a promising starter before injuries derailed his career. A move to the bullpen is the last attempt to salvage his potential.
|60 / 60||60 / 60||40 / 45||40 / 40||45|
In his new role, Harvey has been able to realize his talent in a way he hadn’t before. His fastball now sits in the upper 90s, a considerable jump from low to mid 90s as a starter. It’s easy velocity, too; he gives no indication of being a max-effort pitcher. From a start he made on April 25, 2019, the top of Harvey’s range was recorded to be 97 mph on the fastball, 82 on the curve, and 89 on the changeup. Now, according to Fangraphs data from his time in MLB, he averages 98.5 on the fastball, 83.5 on the curve, and 90 on the change.
According to Driveline Baseball, an individual pitcher’s spin rate will increase or decrease with his velocity. So, if Harvey throws harder, the spin rate is higher, and his pitches move more. This explains his instantaneous resurgence in the bullpen.
Harvey’s curveball is the better of his two off-speed pitches. As a reliever, he has been able to greatly limit any loopiness or upward trajectory out of his hand: in other words, it looks like a fastball… until it isn’t. Considering hitters need to be ready for a 100 mph fastball, the 15 mph speed difference alone makes it a hard pitch to adjust to and be able to hit. As for the changeup, it isn’t a particularly great pitch. The movement is below average, and with his control issues, it’s not hard to imagine one of these becoming a BP fastball.
Much of Harvey’s value lies in his ability to strike batters out. As a reliever, he struck out 35.5% of all batters faced (in AA, AAA, and MLB). If he can replicate something close to this, there’s a strong chance he will be given a shot to prove himself as closer material.
Besides health, the biggest concern to his value in the major leagues is, without a doubt, his control. He’s able to get the ball in a general area that he’s aiming at: for example, if the intended pitch is a fastball outside, you can expect something between the middle of the plate and about eight inches off of it. With his stuff, he can get away with some poorly located pitches, but he won’t get away with all of them. This is something Harvey can live with, but the potential for it to have real in-game implications is always present. Out of the bullpen, Harvey walked 8.9% of batters, and that doesn’t even mention poorly located strikes that get hit a long way. His HR/9 exceeded 1.00 for the first time in his career, which may be because of the ball, but it could also be from leaving the ball over the plate against better competition.
Here is a timeline of Harvey’s injuries in professional baseball:
|2014||Forearm strain/elbow tightness, shut down second half of season|
|2015||Started season on IL with fractured fibula (leg), shut down with elbow tightness that ended his season. Didn’t pitch at all|
|2016||Started season on IL, pitched a few games, had Tommy John surgery on July 26|
|2018||Shut down 8/21 with elbow soreness later diagnosed as a forearm strain|
On June 7, the Orioles started the task of assimilating Harvey into the bullpen. He initially pitched about three innings once every five days or so. From July 13 to August 3, he pitched once every four days. In this span, he gave up at least one earned run in every other appearance. Harvey pitched for the first time on three days of rest (including the day of the game) on August 6 and the first time on back to back days on August 14. From there, he pitched mainly in three day intervals before fatigue set in in September.
Harvey still has to prove he can be a reliever that’s capable of pitching frequently with success and good health. If he can do that, then he will finally overcome his history of arm injuries.