Contrary to popular belief, Josh Harrison did not have a break-out season in 2014. Josh Harrison had a miraculous, near-MVP season for which nobody other than, maybe, Josh’s mom could have hoped.
In 575 career plate appearances prior to last season, Harrison had a batting line of .250/.282/.367 — .649 OPS with a 2.6% BB rate and 7 home runs. Plate discipline was not his specialty. He swung at everything, rarely walked, and rarely struck out. And that approach wasn’t working too well – until 2014.
Last year, in spite of a still dismal 4.0% BB rate, Harrison’s OPS soared to 188 points higher than his previous career number. He hit 13 HR in 550 plate appearances and had a batting line of .315/.347/.490 — .837 OPS.
The man who came into the 2014 season with most expecting him to be, at best, a super-utility player – and possibly a AAA super-utility player – has now supplanted the 2013 major league home run leader as the Pittsburgh Pirates third-baseman.
However, whether it be a breakout or a miracle, when such a season ends, a new word quickly pops up in every discussion of the player.
No, not “star.”
Nobody expected Josh Harrison to produce an .837 OPS last season. Only a few more – including, probably, Josh’s mom – expect him to do that next season. And as much as SABERBUCS would like to please Josh’s mom, I need to come down on the side of regression. But the real question is, “How much will Harrison regress and how much will that regression affect his value to the Pirates?”
My answer to the first part? A lot.
My answer to the second part? Not that much.
“Huh?” you say.
I’m projecting Harrison to hit .278/.313/.416, a 108 point drop in OPS, with 13 HR over a full season of plate appearances. That’s a big regression, which, in large part, is due to the fact that he had a probably unsustainable .353 Batting Average on Balls in Play. his previous yearly BABIPS were well below .300. But given his high minor league rates, he should be above league average in 2014. I’m projecting .308.
But offense isn’t the only part of Harrison’s game. He’ll be playing full-time at his best position – third-base. And, at his best position, he may well be one of the best fielders in the game.
Harrison’s career UZR/150 is +13.9 runs. That’s very good. But his Defensive Runs Saved is even better than that, at an other-worldly +23 per year.
And Harrison’s projected drop in OPS from .837 to .729 isn’t nearly as bad as it looks. In fact, a .729 OPS would have been 15 points better than last year’s major league average for the third baseman.
So, even though I’m projecting a lot of regression at the plate, Harrison’s excellent defense and above average baserunning give him a projected WAR of 3.9. That’s a number handsome enough to make the Bucs – and Josh’s mom – very proud.
Through Harrison’s 2014 age of 26, the hitters most comparable to him in the key predictive statistics of BB%, K%, ISO, and wRC+ were former Phillie Ricky Jordan and catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
At age 27, Jordan had a batting line of .304/.313/.417 — .730 OPS.
Pierzynski’s age-27 line was .272/.319/.410 — .729 OPS.
And those numbers just happen to fall perfectly in line with the .729 OPS that SABERBUCS is projecting for Josh Harrison in 2015.