Photo: Keith Allison
Josh Harrison, the former recipient of the heart and hustle award, is every coaches dream. A guy that will do anything you tell him to do, and gives 100 percent while doing it. He may not be as talented as Mike Trout, but he certainly has the heart to be a major league player.
When he was promoted to the big leagues, Josh Harrison was not much more than a typical utility man. He was a guy who could play at any position the team needed him to. That is valuable to any team. Then, when he showed his ability to hit in 2014, it was obvious the Pirates may have found a hidden gem in Josh Harrison.
Josh Harrison managed to hit .315/.347/.490 in 2014 all while playing good defense across the diamond. Nobody saw that performance coming. The undersized kid from the University of Cincinnati was an easy underdog to root for. People love rooting for the underdog, Neal Huntington even loved it so much he decided to reward him with a contract extension. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was certainly something the Pirates don’t do quite often.
Then 2015 happened. Josh Harrison didn’t look too good anymore. Sure, the heart and the hustle were still there. But the results went somewhere else.
Nobody saw Josh Harrisons 2014 coming. There was nothing in his numbers that suggested he would all of a sudden have a 5 WAR season where he hit 137 wRC+. And then when he did, there wasn’t much in his 2014 numbers that suggested he wasn’t for real. Sure, his BABIP was a tad high, but a .353 BABIP isn’t that unusual for a speedster that hits line drives. But, he did fall off. His 5 WAR, 137 wRC+ season went down to just a 1.3 WAR, 100 wRC+ season.
Now in his third year after his extension, Harrison is set to start the season as the teams starting second baseman once again. The problem is, he hasn’t shown he is any bit the player he was in 2014. His numbers have fallen and there isn’t much to suggest a return to 2014 form is near.
The one thing Josh Harrison hasn’t lost is his speed. He is still stealing bases at a decent rate, and is playing good defense. However, he still can’t take a walk and has gone from double-digit home runs to just 4 a season the past two seasons. And now in his age 29 season, the speed could go at any point.
From a team that prides itself on innovation and being at the top of the game as far as strategy goes, it’s a little surprising seeing a a guy like Josh Harrison bat leadoff. His inability to take a walk is pretty staggering. His career walk rate is just 3.5%. That would have him as the lowest in the league since his debut in 2011. Usually from your leadoff hitter you want a guy who will at least take pitches, and walks are certainly always welcome. So, Josh Harrison never worked counts, never took walks, and now does not hit for a high average, and does not hit for power. Not a good recipe for a guy you just resigned to be your everyday second baseman for years to come.
This is a big year for Josh Harrison. Of course, 2014 will be known as the biggest year of his career. If it wasn’t for 2014, Josh Harrison would be just some guy making around $700,000 a year. Now, instead he’s making around 7 million a year. The difference one season can make is pretty amazing.
This is a big year for a few reasons. If he is bad, like 2015-16 bad, it’s very possible he loses his starting spot. If he’s good, like half as good as in 2014 then it is very likely he will remain a starter throughout the remainder of his contract.
As far as competition goes, Adam Frazier is the guy that sticks out most. However, the Pirates love to have a multiple options. The newly acquired Phil Gosselin and possibly Alen Hanson could take over at some point in 2017. To me, it is unlikely any of them do take Harrisons starting role.
Adam Frazier is very similar to Josh Harrison. Both originiated as super utility players, but unlike Harrison, Frazier can take a walk. Josh Harrison has shown he can hit for more power than Frazier, but the past two seasons of 4 HR seem more indicative of what he will do in the future than his 2014 season. Of course, last seasons sample was just too small to draw any conclusions for Frazier. Frazier certainly does walk more than Harrison. Everyone does. But Fraziers plate discipline and ability to make contact are legitimate skills. He has the speed necessary to be a threat on the basepaths.
The real missing piece for Adam Frazier is the contract. Josh Harrison already has his contract extension. It makes sense for the Pirates to keep him as a starter and Frazier as the super utility player to keep Fraziers price down in arbitration. Sure, it is not the reason the fans want to hear but it is the philosophy the Pirates follow to remain competitive consistently.
Jeff Branson, the Pirates hitting coach, will need to help make Josh Harrison Hit Great Again or else Adam Frazier will be the new guy in town.