Pirates infielder Josh Harrison has come a long way this season. At 26 years old, Harrison has emerged as one of the club’s key contributors. He’ll be relied as such when the team enters the postseason next week. Harrison’s rise to prominence has been one of the year’s biggest surprises. While he had always hit for high averages in the minors, that didn’t seem to carry over during his brief stints in the majors. On top of that, Harrison rarely offered anything in the power department. Considering he was never a top prospect, there are plenty of reasons to doubt Harrison’s recent breakout.
One of the main reasons for doubt deals with his approach at the plate. Harrison is a free-swinger, and guys who typically walk at such a low rate have to provide value with the bat in order to stay employed. In early August, Michael Barr looked at some of the aspects of Harrison’s approach, and concluded that Harrison wasn’t necessarily a candidate to regress. Barr has been right thus far, as Harrison has continued his hot streak over the past month-plus since the article was written.
Still, there was one thing about Harrison’s profile that stood out as strange. While his O-Swing% wasn’t out of rate with his career numbers, it was still extremely high. Among all hitters with at least 500 plate appearances, Harrison’s 39% O-Swing ranks as the 13th highest. Is swinging at such a high percentage of balls a sign that Harrison’s numbers could eventually go down the drain?
Not necessarily. Take a look at some of the players in similar company this season.
There are a lot of strong hitters on that list. That suggests swinging at balls out of the strike zone may not be the worst thing in the world. It might not be a desired trait by those who watch or analyze the game, but plenty of good players can get away with it.
Whether that’s something Harrison can continue to do is a more legitimate question. Looking over the chart, Harrison has some odd trends. He doesn’t swing at nearly as many strikes as some of the players on the list, and doesn’t make as much contact as the elite average hitters.
It’s weird to say, but it’s almost as if Harrison has a power-hitter approach without elite power. Looking just at Contact%, Harrison slots in between Matt Adams and Yoenis Cespedes. All of the hitters on the list with a lower Contact% than Harrison are power hitters, with the exception of Chris Johnson.
It’s hard to know what that means moving forward. Harrison did make big strides in the power department this season, and a part of that was putting more balls in the air. If the change in approach is here to stay, perhaps there’s reason for optimism regarding Harrison’s future. Swinging as much as he does won’t preclude him from being a good hitter. What the ball does once it’s put in play might be the bigger factor here.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.