Matt Harrison Breaks Out, What Happens in 2012? by Mike Podhorzer October 13, 2011 In the short period I was able to watch last night’s Rangers-Tigers game, I unfortunately chose the time when the announcers reminded us Braves fan of the trade several years ago. The trade being the one that sent Mark Teixeira for half a season to Atlanta and brought back Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus and Matt Harrison, amongst others (including one catcher whose name I don’t feel like spelling at the moment). Andrus and Feliz have already been contributed good value to the Rangers and Harrison decided that in 2011, it would be his turn to make the Braves look foolish. After posting an ERA no better than 4.71, Harrison broke out in a big way this season, finishing with a 3.39 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. In the minor leagues, he had always displayed excellent control, though his strikeout rates were rather uninspiring. Despite being on the the top pitching prospects in the Braves system, those mediocre strikeout rates may have been why the Braves felt like they could let him go. Or maybe just because they always seem to have an embarrassment of riches in their system with regards to pitching. Either way, Harrison’s control took a dive last year, but his regaining of it was one reason for his surprising performance. His improved control is somewhat supported by a jump in F-Strike%. However, the mark is still well below league average, suggesting that there is little chance he posts another sub-3.00 BB/9 next year. The strikeout rate increase was nice to see, and necessary if he was ever going to stick in a Major League rotation. It spiked right back to the levels he was consistently posting in the Minors. Strangely, his SwStk% was almost identical to last season’s mark, though his K/9 jumped by about 0.80. His SwStk% is below the league average, as it has always been, but it is at a level that matches up with his strikeout rate. So I think the jump this season was not a fluke, and last year’s strikeout rate probably should have been higher. In addition, his fastball velocity increased for a third straight year, which is a positive sign. Unfortunately, I don’t see much additional upside in his strikeout rate, but I think somewhere in the low 6.0 range is a safe bet. Harrison induces an above average percentage of ground balls, but nothing too exciting. With a mediocre strikeout rate, a push of his GB% closer to 50% would certainly help. This year’s 3.39 ERA wasn’t all smoke and mirrors, but there was some good fortune involved. His SIERA was a less impressive 4.09 and xFIP 3.85. The majority of his ERA outperformance was the result of a 7.1% HR/FB ratio. With no history of below average HR/FB ratios (though he had only thrown 225 innings previously), and pitching home games in Texas, I cannot believe that next year his HR/FB ratio won’t jump right back to the league average. The bottom line is that Harrison is definitely an improved pitcher, but is clearly not as good as his 3.39 may suggest to some. I think he flew under the radar this year as I would bet the majority of fantasy owners have no idea how good his ERA was. However, a strong rest of the postseason could increase his perceived value heading into next year’s drafts. With a nearly guaranteed ERA spike coming, and decent, yet unspectacular skills, it is difficult to get excited about his prospects and fantasy attractiveness next year. It will depend on your league though as I could see his value really being all over the place.