Josh Harrison Eats His Wheaties

He’s 27 and been a role player for the Chicago Cubs minor league system and more recently the Pittsburgh Pirates over the course of a seven year career. Drafted in the sixth round, Josh Harrison was kind of classic organizational depth — a stocky yet speedy guy who could spot start in a pinch in the infield or the outfield should the need arise. And even when the need did arise over the last several seasons, the results have certainly not been worthy of attention in fantasy baseball.

Then there’s his performance this season. Due to a confluence of circumstances throughout the Pirates lineup, whether it be Starling Marte’s struggles, the Pedro Alvarez platoon issue, Jose Tabata failing to stick, other injuries or ineffectiveness, Harrison fell into regular at-bats and he’s taken full advantage. Through the end of June, Harrison was batting .306/.345/.466 with five home runs and seven stolen bases over 221 plate appearances. He even got named to the All-Star team. Plenty of people were running him out there to fill gaps but I’m not sure many were convinced that his bubble was burst proof.

Over the last month-plus Harrison simply refuses to go away. Since the first of July, Harrison has slashed .302/.336/.557 matching his first half home run totals with another five and almost doing the same in steals with six. He’s added eight doubles and two triples on top of that over this 29 game time span, starting just 23 of them. He’s been downright impressive. Add to this the fact that he’s eligible at second, third, and outfield in most formats makes him highly valuable.

The question, of course, is can he keep this up. And it’s actually a tough question to answer, frankly.

His batted ball data doesn’t seem to possess dramatic outliers relative to his career numbers or generally league average data, though he is hitting a few more line drives on the season. His HR/FB isn’t particularly out of whack either compared to league average which would suggest he’s not getting too terribly lucky on long balls:

2014 22.00% 38.60% 39.40% 4.90% 9.80% 12.00% 20.00%
Career 20.60% 40.30% 39.00% 7.60% 6.10% 8.40% 25.80%

Many point to his career .297 BABIP rate and his current .337 BABIP and figure he’s due for regression based on bouncing ball luck alone, but his xBABIP based on his hit trajectory thinks his BABIP is actually a little understated and he should be sitting somewhere around .348. So perhaps he’s earned every bit of it.

Harrison is a bit of a pull hitter when it comes to ground balls, but if you look at his spray chart, he’s got power to all fields in his line drives, fly balls, and home runs. He could be susceptible to a shift although I’m not aware that teams have yet employed one:

Source: FanGraphs

Looking over at his PitchF/x plate discipline data, there’s not a whole lot to point to a fluke here relative to his career rates. If anything, his O-Swing% seems on the high side and his O-Contact% isn’t particularly good. His contact rates overall are a hair above league average, but if I were an opposing pitcher, I’d probably be working a little more out of the zone on Harrison:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
2014 36.20% 66.70% 51.90% 69.80% 87.10% 81.20% 51.30%
Career 36.30% 65.60% 51.60% 73.50% 87.80% 83.00% 52.30%

In looking at his zone profile, it’s apparent that Harrison offers at perhaps a few too many pitches inside and low:

harrison 1

And looking at the corresponding whiff rate, it’s those down and in on Harrison that he has the most trouble with:
harrison whiff rate

But in general, when the ball is in the strike zone, Harrison hasn’t demonstrated any obvious gaps for pitchers to take advantage of, hitting for an excellent average on anything considered a strike (small sample size, indeed):

Harrison BA

One of the big advantages of Harrison this season is he’s been immune to the typical platoon advantage. Versus left handed pitching, Harrison is hitting .303/.325/.461, good for a 118 wRC+. Against right handed pitching, he’s batting .305/.348/.508, good for a wRC+ of 142.

Objectively, I don’t particularly care for the number of balls he swings at outside the zone and when he does offer at them, I wish he’d make better contact. But otherwise, there’s certainly no smoking gun here to suggest that Josh Harrison is due to turn into a pumpkin. Given his ability to handle right handed pitching, there’s no reason to expect the Pirates to choose a platoon situation for Harrison, and certainly with his positional versatility, he ought to be featured in the lineup daily. From a sell high perspective, unless you have Harrison burning on your bench, I’d hold because the return you’re going to get for him probably isn’t going to equate the production you’ll get from him from here on out.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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Ryan S
Ryan S

If someone is looking for a reason as to how the Pirates went from 18-25 on May 18th to 59-53 on August 6th, Harrison is your answer. That was the day he was inserted as a full time player and has since hit to the tune of a 138 wRC+ and a .366 wOBA while playing above average defense at 4 different positions.