By Jason Shetler
Two years ago at this time, Josh Harrison competed for the final spot on the Pirates bench, and won the battle. He was considered an afterthought since he statistically was a below league average player to that point. Following the first half struggles of Travis Snider and Jose Tabata, Harrison began getting most of the playing time in right field. He wound up going on a hitting spree, and remained the right fielder until Gregory Polanco’s call up. Once Polanco arrived to Pittsburgh, Harrison was moved to third base in favor of a struggling Pedro Alvarez. He would become one of the biggest breakout performers of 2014, as he finished runner-up for the NL batting title with a .315 average along with an .837 OPS, a 133 OPS+ and was named an All-Star for the first time.
For as great as Harrison performed that season, he posted a .353 BABIP, which meant he was likely going to show regression in 2015. Although he put up a .287 average, his other offensive figures did regress significantly with a .717 OPS, as well as an OPS+ of 98. Harrison however did have a 1.3 WAR, so at least he wasn’t replacement level.
During the Winter Meetings this past offseason, the Pirates made the very unpopular move of trading Neil Walker to the New York Mets in exchange for Jon Niese. That trade now makes Harrison the everyday second baseman. The question is do the Pirates need him to repeat the success he had in 2014?- Last season, Walker posted a .756 OPS with a 107 OPS+ and a WAR of 2.4. My projection for Harrison this year has him posting an OPS of .755 and a 2.5 WAR, which would very identical to Walker’s figures from a year ago. I don’t think Harrison needs to perform at an elite level like he did in 2014, but at the very least, he has to be much better than he was last season.