Matt Harvey is looking to restart his career in the KBO, could it become a more viable path as the league becomes more visible in the United States?
Matt Harvey and the Korea Baseball Organization is a match made in baseball heaven.
One is a former MLB All-Star who’s looking for a fresh start to his once-promising career. The other wants to capitalize on its increased visibility in the United States by attracting a major American star.
Harvey fits that mold. He and at least three other former Major Leaguers have reached out to the KBO about potentially making the move to Korea, according to KBO insider Daniel Kim.
The KBO allows its clubs to have three foreign-born players, two of whom can be pitchers. These players are brought in to be difference-makers in the league; foreign-born pitchers currently account for eight of the top-10 in innings pitched this season, including former Major Leaguers like Odrisamer Despaigne and Dan Straily.
None of them has the star power of Harvey. The 31-year-old right-hander was the ace of a New York Mets rotation that also included Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. He went 25-18 with a 2.53 ERA over his first three seasons between 2012-2015 (he missed 2014 due to Tommy John surgery) and started the All-Star Game in his home park in 2013.
In the 2015 World Series, Harvey took the mound for the Mets in Game 5 as they faced elimination against the Kansas City Royals. He shut out the Royals over eight innings but pleaded with manager Terry Collins to go back out and finish the game. Collins relented; Harvey gave up two runs as the Mets went on to lose the game and the series in 12 innings.
He hasn’t been the same since. Harvey is 19-31 with a 5.65 ERA since 2015, the third-worst ERA in that span behind only Yovani Gallardo and Edwin Jackson. He’s bounced around the Mets, Reds, and Angels over the last two seasons. He made 12 starts with the Angels in 2019, going 3-5 with a 7.09 ERA, seventh-worst among pitchers who made at least 10 starts. He walked nearly 11 percent of the batters he faced, a figure exceeded by only eight other starters.
Collins recently told SNY that, if he could do it over again, he would still send Harvey back out to pitch the ninth.
“I’m not afraid for them to stand up and stick up for themselves. I said, ‘you know what, go out and finish this thing,’” he said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. I look back on it and I thought afterwards that even though it might have cost us a chance to continue moving on in the World Series, I still think today it was the right thing to do.”
Harvey was the “Dark Knight,” the next rising star for the Mets five years ago. In 2020, he’s just a veteran looking to hold on to what remains of his career. Going to Korea would help him, just as it helped Eric Thames.
Thames was a middling outfielder for the Blue Jays and Mariners in 2011-12. He hit just nine home runs in 86 games in that final season, his career batting average falling to .250. He wasn’t going to stick around in the Majors for long, so he headed to Korea. In three seasons with the NC Dinos, Thames hit 124 home runs with a .349 average and 1.168 OPS. He was the MVP of the league in 2015.
His success in Korea allowed Thames to sign a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. In his first year back in the United States, he hit 31 home runs and has been an integral part of a Brewers lineup that has made the postseason the past two seasons.
Harvey could benefit from taking a similar path, and he wouldn’t be playing in obscurity either. The KBO was the first major baseball league to return to action during the COVID-19 pandemic. Games began to be broadcast on ESPN. The first night of games averaged 173,000 viewers, despite airing in the middle of the night in the United States. Fans in American who had never heard of the Doosan Bears or the Kia Tigers suddenly had live baseball to watch again, and they tuned in.
Harvey would instantly become the biggest star in the league. His big league career in America withering, playing in Korea is likely his last, best option to continue in professional baseball and show he can still be the pitcher he once was.