The offseason is unfortunately here and so we are simultaneously tasked with reflecting on the 2015 season and looking forward to next spring. As part of Rumbunter’s off-season coverage, we will be grading out virtually every member of the Pittsburgh Pirates who spent substantial time on the team’s 25-man roster over the past season. We will look at their seasons as a whole, show you their relevant stats, and assign a final grade to each player. Today’s entry: Josh Harrison
Josh Harrison broke out in a big way in 2014. For his efforts, he was rewarded a nice contract extension right before the season began. The contract bought out a couple of arbitration years and also was viewed as very team friendly.
The deal may end up being one of the few highlights of 2015 for Harrison, who had to slog through regression and injury in a very challenging season. Entering the year as a regular everyday player, Harrison got off to a slow start offensively. That was not unique to Harrison, but his struggles stretched far into late May as well. At his lowest point, Harrison was batting .173 as late as May 10. His batting slash and most numbers were down across the board – yes, partly due to injury – as you will see below.
It becomes difficult to analyze Harrison’s regression as many of the key indicators are downright similar to his 2014 campaign. First, consider his .BABIP (batting average on balls in play). This metric was rather static, with a .336 rate this year versus a .353 clip in 2014. His strikeout rate also remained fairly static, with 71 strikeouts comprising a 16.9% rate, opposed to a 14.7% number the year previous.
The only easy answer available is Harrison’s slugging percentage. It dropped a full .100 points year-to-year. At first glance, one would immediately point to the wrist injury sapping his power. Yet that too is almost a non-factor, as Harrison actually improved in slugging after the injury. Harrison slugged .384 before an awkward slide caused him to miss more than a month. Upon returning, Harrison amped it up with a .407 clip. The gap shots that fell in last year for doubles and triples just weren’t there this year.
Harrison has always been a low-walk, low strikeout guy. This often frames Harrison’s results at the plate in a very binary fashion. That stayed the same in 2015. With a similar batting line in many regards, some regression is to be expected, perhaps even due to something as small as a .020 drop in BABIP. Still, it was a bit surprising to see Harrison end up with a sub-.300 average, but I believe we may have seen the real Harrison batting line in 2015. At the very least it is one fans should feel comfortable expecting.
Any evaluation of Harrison must be framed through the context of his recent rise to everyday status coupled with the contract extension. That kicks in next year, with a $5 million value followed by escalating figures. We asked Pirates fans on twitter what Harrison can do to live up to the extension. Here’s some selected responses:
Ryan’s batting line is just about what I would feel comfortable expecting from Harrison if I were to construct this team. There are no peripherals that suggest that Harrison isn’t capable of 12-15 home runs and 70-80 RBI per year, provided he can get off to a good start. A catalyst for his breakout were those first weeks of action where he was hitting everything and cashing in on some big moments. Some players can brush off a bad start – think Andrew McCutchen – but some need the momentum out of the gates.
Until he shows us otherwise, Harrison belongs to the latter.
So what did he end up with, grade-wise, for 2015?