Can Josh Harrison repeat his 2014 season?


At the start of the Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 season Josh Harrison was the “jack-of-all-trades, master of none”.  By the conclusion of the year, Harrison put together a All-Star campaign after wrestling away the everyday third base job from an ineffective Pedro Alvarez.  The question is, was last season just a fluke, or is Harrison capable of producing to that caliber in 2015 and beyond?

It was easy for fans to fall in love with Harrison last year.  As fans clamored for someone to take over for Alvarez, Harrison rose to the occasion and put together a line of .315/.347/.490, while committing just 3 errors in 512 innings at the hot corner.  Even more noticeable is the way Harrison plays the game.  Harrison’s base running Houdini-acts against the Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets captivated the audience and his hustle and grit stole the hearts of the blue-collar city of Pittsburgh.

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Josh Harrison will enter this season in his prime at 27-years-old and does not become free agent eligible until after the 2018 season, so presumably third base should be locked down for the next few seasons.  However, the Pirates brass and fans alike should be cautious before placing any guarantees on Harrison’s 2015 expected production.

After bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and Pittsburgh from 2011-2013, Harrison seemed like the prototypical utility infielder who could never adjust to big league pitching.  After posting a .272 average in his rookie season, Harrison regressed in 2012, hitting just .233 in 104 games.

It is unreasonable to expect the same results in 2015 after factoring in the underlying numbers.

Never viewed as a Top-20 prospect, Harrison received just 95 plate appearances in 2013 while hitting .250 and did not receive any PA’s in the Pirates first post-season trip since 1992.

Last season, Josh Harrison forced his way into the lineup as much as Alvarez forced his way out of it.  Fortunately, Harrison did not disappoint and posted an overall WAR of 5.3, easily helping the Pirates make the post-season for consecutive seasons, something that may not have been possible without his breakout performance.

It is hard to question the numbers that Harrison put up.  In addition to his WAR, Harrison’s .315 batting average nearly captured the NL batting title, finishing second to former Pirate, Justin Morneau.  What also stands out is Harrison’s free swinging approach.  In 1125 career PA’s, Harrison has walked just 37 times for an average of about 1 walk per 30 PA’s.  Those numbers are alarming when considering Harrison to be a top of the order hitter.

Furthermore, his BABIP is the clearest indicator that a regression should be expected.  Josh Harrison held a .353 BABIP during the 2014 season, 53 points higher than the league average and nearly 75 points higher than his career average.  It is unreasonable to expect the same results in 2015 after factoring in the underlying numbers.

Barring anymore off-season additions, the Pirates seem poised to enter this season with Harrison as the uncontested everyday third baseman.  Other than Alvarez who has been moved to first base, the only other potential third basemen on the roster are off-season acquisitions, Justin Sellers, Jake Elmore and Sean Rodriguez.  All three should be considered journeyman utility infielders who will provide depth with Rodriquez the most likely to fill Harrison’s former role of “jack-of-all-trades, master of none”.

With Alvarez unable to handle third defensively, the organization has clearly lost faith in the former 1st round pick and signed Corey Hart to provide insurance in the case that Alvarez falters at first.  In Josh Harrison’s case, the Pirates appear to be putting all of their eggs in one basket on a player who entered the 2014 season as nothing more than bench player.  While Harrison’s breakout cannot all be considered a fluke, enthusiasm and expectations should be curbed as at least a mild regression should be considered likely.

Next: What will Pedro Alvarez give the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015?