Josh Harrison is a Prime Candidate to Regress


Josh Harrison’s meteoric rise in 2014 was by far the most welcomed surprise for Pittsburgh Pirate fans last year.

Not only did he pretty much play every position on the field, but he did so at an extremely high level and his bat was on fire throughout the entire season.  Everyone, including myself, was waiting month after month for Harrison to cool off and revert back to human form, but it just didn’t happen.

He finished the season with a .315 batting average that was a mere 4 points behind the NL Leader Justin Morneau (.319).  We all know that playing in Colorado isn’t fair, so in my book Harrison WAS the league leader.   By the way, McCutchen finished the year hitting .314 if anyone was keeping track.  And the Pirates finished 4th overall in hitting in the National League as a team.  Take that haters.

So was this explosion of offense by Harrison an anomaly or should we expect a similar type year in 2015?

Before his all-star 2014 season, Josh Harrison teetered between AAA and the majors getting an average of about 70 game appearances a year over the course of three years.  Some of those appearances were as a late inning pinch hitter or substitute base runner as he was widely considered just a utility spot starter at best.  From 2011-2013 his cumulative batting average over the course of 530+ at bats was around .250.  Respectable yes, but a far cry from the .315 he ended up with last year.

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Of course, you could use the argument that those statistics reflect the fact that those were his first few years in the majors and it takes time to get your ‘sea legs’ so to speak against this caliber of pitching.  In most cases you’d be right about that (ahem…Gregory Polanco) but in Harrison’s case his best year prior to 2014 was actually his rookie season where he hit .272 over nearly 200 at bats.   So that argument won’t cut it.

So what did happen in 2014 that made his career batting average increase by nearly 25%?  I can sum that up in one word.


Harrison looked like he was in a season long groove at the plate.  He was squaring everything up and it appeared that he saw every pitch perfectly.  When he started that patented J-Hey sway in the batters box during the pitcher’s delivery his whole body was in perfect synchronization.   It was a beautiful sight to behold.

He was patient at the plate as well.  His walk-to-at bat ratio doubled and his on base percentage sky rocketed roughly 60 points from his career average.  J-Hey’s not one to take pitches anyways, but it was rare that he was fooled at the plate.

What was most impressive to me wasn’t how often Harrison made solid contact but how hard he was hitting the ball when he did.  This guy wasn’t just slapping singles out there.  His slugging percentage jumped an absurd 115 points from his career numbers (.490 from .375) and he hit 13 home runs, one shy of his career total.  He also muscled up to hit 38 doubles, which while well off the league leader Jonathan Lucroy‘s 53, was still good enough to tie reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen.

And all of that can be attributed to timing.  His timing was impetuous, his defense impregnable…you know the rest.

Timing, however, is a fickle mistress.  It can leave you in the blink of an eye.  The reason you see so many slumps in major league hitters is because if their timing is off by as much as a tenth of a second, it can change the course of an at bat.  To expect Harrison to keep this torrid pace up in 2015 is not a realistic expectation considering his book of work prior to last season.

I don’t feel that a major regression is something we’ll see, but I would be surprised if Josh Harrison knocks on the door of .300 over the course of the entire season.  I can see him ending up around the .265 to .285 mark while showing more patience at the plate, still playing above average in the field, and he will undoubtedly remain an integral part of the Pirates success in 2015 unless he somehow plays himself out of that role.

Regardless of what the numbers end up looking like for Harrison, every Pirate fan that watches the team regularly can be confident that Josh Harrison is working right now.  He’s working hard in the gym, he’s working hard to get faster, he’s working hard to get stronger, he’s working on his mechanics, and there is no doubt that he will be ready to play come March.

We’re all rooting for you J-Hey.  I can’t wait to watch.

For expert Pirate analysis in 2015 follow me on Twitter @TheBigTuna66

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