Can Josh Harrison and Starling Marte Maintain Awesomeness?


Sep 5, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (6) high-fives third baseman Josh Harrison (5) after he scores in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates have received tremendous offensive production from Josh Harrison and Starling Marte as the Bucs offense has become a full blown juggernaut in 2014.  The offense was the focus of Clint Hurdle this off season and it’s paid dividends as the Pirates sit at the top or in the top five in numerous offensive categories.  But is it sustainable?

The idea that the Pirates offense would be right in the mix with the Los Angeles Angels, Dodgers, Detroit Tigers and the boppers of the American League in Baltimore and Toronto is simply amazing.  The Pirates are receiving considerable offensive contributions during their stretch run over the past two months from Starling Marte and Josh Harrison.

May 26, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (6), center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) and right fielder Josh Harrison (5) celebrate their win against the New York Mets at Citi Field. The Pirates defeated the Mets 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Marte and Harrison have put up video game numbers in August and September as the Bucs stack wins in their pursuit of an NL Central pennant.  But when a team becomes an offensive juggernaut seemingly out of nowhere–more specifically in the Bucs case however, out of the middle of the pack–people question it.

One stat often used in these cases is one that more saber minded people talk about: the BABIP of Josh Harrison.

But we can do one better.

What most are overlooking is that Starling Marte leads all of Major League baseball in Batting Average Balls in Play this year with a… gulp… .370 BABIP. 

The Pirates offense is fueld by high BABIP

At first glance, most of the hitters on this list are just good hitters.  But seriously… it’s very unlikely that Starling Marte is going to be able to continue his torrid .370 and Josh Harrison is also quite high at .353.  Both have such small walk rates it’s a safe bet to say that these numbers are going to be unsustainable over their career–that’s just a fact.

Let’s start with Starling Marte by looking at his BABIP from 2013, he was sky high then as well with a .363 BABIP.    One thing that will help Marte is that his speed will be able to sustain his serious spike in infield hit percentage this season.

Marte has been on an absolute tear–he is hitting .405 in his last ten games.  In September, #MartePartay has a .391 average with an 1.125OPS.  He isn’t just doing it lately either, he raked in August too, when he hit .344 with a .977 OPS

Harrison isn’t too far behind as he has hit .357 with an .844 OPS in September and tore up August when he hit .356 with a .992 OPS winning player of the month.  But unlike Marte, Harrison had a .253 BABIP in 2013.

So the big question is Josh Harrison just lucky this season?

Aug 29, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison (5) celebrates with teammates after defeating the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park. The Pirates won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to base much on just 95 plate appearances last season.  And it’s hard to just look at a career year and gain much from crunching numbers, but we will try anyway–and also try not to put you to sleep.

JHay has reduced his infield easy pop outs this year, while showing really strong fly ball rates and is hitting less ground balls.  As Clint Hurdle likes to say, this means JHay is barreling up the baseball more than he has before.   Harrison is also hitting more line drives–that is a random stat/subject to subjectivity–but just watching Harrison, most Buccos fans know he is hitting lasers on a consistent basis, so we can dismiss some of the randomness from his improved line drive rate.

One advanced number on Harrison’s side is that his home run to fly ball ratio is actually down while he has added distance to his fly balls.  Often times a spike in HR/FB is a red flag for a fluke year.

Everyone knows that Harrison can hit, he always has, but he has never done it like this.  The hard hit leaderboard is also further confirmation that our eyes aren’t deceiving us.

One thing we can also agree on is that there isn’t a team in baseball that wants to get Josh Harrison in a run down.  [ Josh Harrison rundowns GIF courtesy of Forbes to Federal ]

Josh Harrison rundowns GIF from Forbes to Federal

So the bottom line is that Josh Harrison is a tremendous story of a player that simply needed to get on the field to show what he could do over a long period of playing time. The approach in the box also seems to have improved.  And finally it’s also proven that when looking inside the numbers there isn’t a lot of support to show that this breakout season for Josh Harrison is tremendously based on luck.