By Jason Shetler
From 2011 to 2013, Josh Harrison had put up mediocre numbers coming off the Pirates bench. He began 2014 as a utility man for the Bucs, but things were different for him. Following the struggles of Jose Tabata and Travis Snider, Harrison started getting more playing time as a right fielder, and went on an absolute hitting spree while becoming an All-Star for the first time. He was then moved to third base after the call up of Gregory Polanco. Harrison entered 2015 as the Pirates third baseman. He was placed on the DL in July with a thumb injury, which prompted the Pirates to acquire the now retired Aramis Ramirez. Let’s compare Harrison’s numbers over the past two seasons, including his 2016 FanGraphs projection.
2014: .315/.347/.490, 133 OPS+, 4.0% BB rate, 14.7% K rate, 5.0 WAR in 143 games
2015: .287/.327/.390, 98 OPS+, 4.2% BB rate, 15.8% K rate, 1.3 WAR in 114 games
2016 (FanGraphs): .290/.333/.401, 4.9% BB rate, 14.7% K rate, 2.9 WAR in 143 games
Harrison finished as the runner up for the 2014 NL batting crown to former Pirate Justin Morneau. Aside from the average, he performed at an All-Star level with an impressive 133 OPS+, as well as being a five-win player. Because Harrison posted a .353 BABIP in 2014, most projected that he would show some regression in 2015. That ended up being the case, as he put up only a .717 OPS last season. Harrison will be the Pirates new second baseman in 2016. He should be an upgrade defensively over Neil Walker with a career 1.6 UZR/150 at the position (Walker’s career second base UZR/150: -6.4). Harrison projects to almost being a three-win player, if he can stay healthy this season.
My analysis: While Josh Harrison had a great year in 2014, the numbers weren’t as good last season. That being said however, he performed well in the second half with a .773 OPS compared to only a .696 mark in the first half. At the very least, Harrison should be better defensively at second base than Neil Walker, especially in the range department. If healthy in 2016, Harrison should be about a three-win player, so the FanGraphs projection appears to be on point.