2016 Pirate Position Preview: Second Base
As we continue to breakdown the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirate position groups here at Rum Bunter, today we take a look at a position that looks much different than it did a year ago – second base.
For the past six seasons everyone knew who would be at second base every day for the Pirates. Well, every day he was healthy that was. That player was native Pittsburgher Neil Walker. However, Neil Walker is now a New York Met and it is time for life after Walker.
Replacing Walker at second base this year is a former All-Star in Josh Harrison. The 2014 National League All-Star burst onto the scene in 2014 as the Pirates’ super utility man, before becoming the everyday third baseman due to Pedro Alvarez’s inability to throw a baseball across the diamond.
Last season, Harrison was pegged to be the starting third baseman and was just that when the season started. However, he suffered a thumb injury that caused him to miss time and he eventually slid back into his utility role. In 2016 however, Harrison will be the everyday second baseman for the Pirates.
Even though Harrison hits for less power than Walker he does everything else better and due to this the Pirates, in my opinion, are better off with Harrison at second base than Walker. Since breaking out in the 2014 season Harrison has slashed .303/.338/.446/.784 with a .342 wOBA, 121 wRC+, a 15.2% strikeout rate, and 28 stolen bases. Most likely, these numbers would be even better if not for his thumb injury last season.
Even though no one will ever confuse Josh Harrison for a slugger, his ISO of .143 the past two seasons is higher than the Major League average of .140. This is thanks in large part to Harrison being a doubles machine. Despite playing in only 114 games last year Harrison still hit 29 doubles, and this came after finishing second in the National League in two baggers in 2014 with 38.
There are three areas where Harrison will present an upgrade over Neil Walker: contact rate, speed, and defense.
The past two seasons Harrison’s 15.2% strikeout rate has been better than Walker’s 16.9%. This may not seem like a huge difference, but that averages out to around 15 less strikeouts per season. Those 15 extra balls in play have the potential to make a big difference because anytime a hitter puts the ball in play they give themselves a chance.
Neil Walker is about as fast and athletic as current day Casey Hampton, while Harrison is not a burner he, unlike Walker, is still a threat to steal a base or take an extra base while running the bases. Also, Neil Walker is arguably the worst defensive second baseman in baseball.
In 2015 Neil Walker’s defensive runs saved was -2. Essentially, his defensive was responsible for two more runs than an average second baseman. His UZR/150 of -8.8 was even worse. Walker’s defensive struggles are due in large part to him having zero range and not being able to move side-to-side and this will not be an issue with Harrison. Last year at second base Harrison had a DRS of 2 and an UZR/150 of 1.3.
The Pirates also have a very strong option behind Harrison in Alen Hanson. One of the Pirates’ top prospects, Hanson will begin the year at AAA Indianapolis but should be ready at any time if needed. Honestly, if the Pirates would not have signed David Freese I believe Hanson would have made the team out of Spring Training to play second base, with Harrison at third, until Jung-Ho Kang gets healthy.
Super utility man Sean Rodriguez is also an option for the Pirates at second base this year, and will most likely be the primary backup to Harrison. One of the two between Pedro Florimon and Cole Figueroa will make the team and can play second base as well. Florimon and Figueroa are both very strong defensive players, but leave a lot to be desired offensively. If an injury were to occur to Harrison it is also possible we see Jung-Ho Kang slide to second base while David Freese mans third base.
In 2016 I expect the Pirates to be strong at second base. Josh Harrison has proven to be a very good player when put in an everyday role the past two seasons, and is an upgrade in many areas over Neil Walker. The Pirates also have one of their top prospect in Alen Hanson sitting behind Harrison at second base should an injury occur.
2016 Pittsburgh Pirates Position Group Previews