Matt Harvey and the caution question

The Mets did everything to protect Matt Harvey. They served his interests. What about theirs? Elsa/Getty Images

The New York Mets painted within all of the prescribed 21st-century lines in their handling of Matt Harvey. Drafted in 2010, Harvey didn’t pitch in any games at the end of that summer after signing, and in his first year in professional baseball, he tossed 135 2/3 innings in 26 starts in Class A and Double-A.

In 2012, Harvey accumulated just 110 innings in 20 starts in Triple-A before being promoted to the big leagues and throwing another 59.1 innings in 10 starts, for a total of 169.1 for the entire year. This season, the Mets were suitably conservative in their handling of the young star, limiting him to 178 1/3 innings in his first 26 starts, while never allowing him to throw more than 121 pitches in any outing.

A decade ago, before pitch and innings limits became standard operating procedure, the best young pitcher in the game had nine starts of more than 121 pitches; in six starts in September that year, Mark Prior had pitch counts of 131, 129, 109, 124, 131 and 133. He is now, seemingly, a cautionary tale.

The kind the Mets can point to as they have done everything right in their handling of Matt Harvey, according to current conventional wisdom in baseball, just as the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg. But Harvey apparently blew out his elbow, just as Strasburg did. And as the search for the perfect formula for handling young pitchers continues without uniform success, some officials are beginning to believe that with all of the uncertainty about physiology and pitch history and mechanics that there is really only one hard truth about young pitchers: You control them for six years in their major league careers.