In 2014, Josh Harrison had a career year. He was excellent on both sides of the ball and provided incredible value for the organization. Harrison batted .315 during the 2014 season, while also saving the team a total of 15 runs defensively. He played five different positions that season, with his main position being third base. Despite his bat cooling off during the next few seasons, his defensive value never faded. He has continued to move around the field and make spectacular plays different positions. However, this season, Harrison’s bat has regained some of its fire and he has been a staple at the top of the Pirates lineup.
What makes Harrison so valuable is his ability to get on base. This season, his on-base percentage is .364, which ranks him inside the top 50 among major league hitters. Harrison currently has a higher OBP than players like Christian Yelich and George Springer. The reason that Harrison has such a high OBP is because of the 18 times that pitches have hit him. However, it does not matter how Harrison is getting on base, as long as he continues to reach base at this rate. To dive into a possibility to why he is being hit this frequently, I have included a few photos of how close Harrison stands to the plate.
On first glance, Harrison’s initial batting stance places him a good distance away from the plate. However, following his leg kick, he closes his body off and places his foot practically on the chalk. These photos are from a specific example where Harrison was hit, so take notice of the spot the catcher is calling for the ball. He is calling for a pitch down and inside, which is exactly where Harrison’s leg is going to be as his swing progresses. What is astonishing is the fact that Harrison can see these pitching coming for his leg and he refuses to get out of the way. He is not afraid to be hit by pitches, and it is paying off for him in regards to how frequently he is reaching base.
My favorite part of Harrison’s game comes from his defensive value. He has quietly been the best defensive player on the team since Marte’s suspension, even though he bounces around to different positions. I love defensive players because their value is not dependent on their production offensively. Regardless of whether or not their bats are either hot or in a slump, they are still providing value for the organization. Players who are dependent on offensive production do not have the same floor as players who are great defenders. Everyone goes through offensive slumps, but defensive slumps are not as common. Athletic players will continue to make plays on the defensive side of the ball throughout the season.
Here is an example of Harrison’s ability to make spectacular plays: Harrison robs Stanton
One of Harrison’s biggest problems the past few seasons has been the way he is overaggressive during the early stages of an at bat. He has never been a very patient hitter and following his breakout 2014 season, pitchers figured out this weakness in his. When pitchers figured out that Harrison was overly aggressive, they began to throw him junk when he first came to the plate. They were able to get Harrison to chase early and get a poorly hit ball or whiff. In terms of league average, when a hitter has a 0-1 count, the average batting average is .221. In contrast, a 1-0 count produces a .268 average throughout the league and a 2-0 count produces a .281 batting average (on average). Being that Harrison was aggressive and saw a high amount of 0-1 counts, his performance regressed from 2014.
This season, Harrison has found a new approach. He is chasing less, especially on 0-0 counts. Through this, he is forcing the pitcher to throw him better pitches throughout the at-bat. Below I have included his swing % from 2016 and 2017 on 0-0 counts. Upon first glance for the 2016 heat map, you will notice how high the swing percentages are for pitches outside of the zone. However, in 2017 there is a drastic difference regarding swing% on pitches outside of the strike zone. Furthermore, when he is swinging at first pitch strikes, he is choosing better quality pitches to swing at. Take a look:
One could argue that Harrison has been the best all-around player on the team. His ability to get on base and his above average defense has propelled him to at least be considered in that discussion. His contract is valid through 2018, but the Pirates have two club options that can be exploited during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. If the Pirates were to eventually trade Harrison, they need to make sure that the market is right for him. He does not hit many home runs, nor is he a flashy offensive player, but the adjustments he has made to his game have enabled him to be an above average hitter. Additionally, he has been a hometown favorite for numerous years and his overall value has just recently started to rise. He will be on his way to Miami in the coming weeks and he is completely deserving of his all-star game invitation.