Pittsburgh Pirates Black History Month Tribute: Utility Man Josh Harrison


Today, we continue with our Black History Month tribute for some of the best African American players the Pittsburgh Pirates have ever had. So far, we’ve written pieces about pitcher Bob Veale and outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Dave Parker. Now we move onto a player who served multiple positions all around the infield and outfield. That would be utility man Josh Harrison.

Harrison was born on July 8th, 1987, and was originally drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 6th round of the 2008 draft. He eventually made his way to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a trade that sent him, Jose Ascaino and Kevin Hart to the Bucs for Tom Gorzelanny and John Garbow. This happened at the 2009 trade deadline and Harrison would be in the Majors by 2011.

From 2011 to 2012, Harrison was mainly a bench player. He only stepped to the plate 575 times during those three seasons while batting just .250/.282/.378 with a .283 wOBA and 78 wRC+. However, the only positions he didn’t play in the first three years of his career were center field, first base and catcher. He even pitched an inning during a blowout game vs the Colorado Rockies in 2013.

However, in 2014 was going to cement himself as a staple in the Pirate line up. By the end of May, Harrison was a .290/.333/.467 hitter with a .351 wOBA and 127 wRC+. With Pedro Alvarez struggling and missing some time due to injury, Harrison’s hot start earned him more and more playing time at third base. Overall throughout 2014, Harrison was a 315/.347/.490 batter with 13 long balls, a .365 wOBA and 137 wRC+ in 550 plate appearances.

Most of his playing time in the field was at third base, where he was an outstanding defender. He had +11 DRS, 8.7 UZR/150 and 1.0 range runs above average. However, he was also a plus defender at second base (+2 DRS, 5.2 UZR/150) and was more than usable in the corner outfield (+3 DRS, -5.7 UZR/150). With a 4.8 fWAR, Harrison finished 9th in fWAR.

Out of all the memorable moments from the 2014 MLB season Harrison owned two of them. He got into two, very entertaining rundowns with the New York Mets on June 27th. Exactly a month later on July 27th against the Colorado Rockies, he got into a very similar, memorable rundown. These rundowns are just two of the many base running escapes he’s been a part of.

While this was the peak of his hitting ability, that doesn’t mean he was unproductive in following seasons. From 2015 to 2017, he was a .280/.326/.404 batter with a .316 wOBA and 96 wRC+, but much of his value came from his glove at multiple positions. Harrison saw increasing time at second base where he had a +15 DRS mark, 0.7 range runs above average and -0.3 UZR/150. However, he still played a notable amount of time at third base (+3 DRS, 0.3 range runs above average, -1.1 UZR/150) and left field (-1 DRS, 1.0 UZR.150, 0.2 range runs above average).

One of the most memorable moments Harrison had with the Pittsburgh Pirates was a walk off home run vs the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 23rd, 2017. The Dodgers’ starter, Rich Hill, was throwing a perfect game through 8 innings and no hitter through 9. However, the Bucs’ pitching staff was matching zero-for-zero every inning. Hill, who was still in the game in the 10th inning, faced Harrison to start extras. Harrison ended the game with a walk off home run, winning the Pirates the game and ending Hill’s near no-no. This marked the only time in MLB history that a team’s lone hit was a walk off home run.

2018 was the last season of Harrison’s tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Harrison was limited to just 374 plate appearances as an injury kept him out a good chunk of the season. Not only was he unhealthy most of the season, but he only hit .250/.293/.363 with a 77 wRC+. He also didn’t provide much value as their primary second baseman with 0 DRS, -4.4 UZR/150 and -0.7 range runs above average.

Following this season, the Pittsburgh Pirates bought out the last year of the extension he signed at the beginning of 2015, opting to make Adam Frazier the primary second baseman who was coming off a hot second half of 2018.

Harrison then signed with the Detroit Tigers where he only appeared in 36 games and stepped to the plate 147 times. His bat was completely non-existent during this short stint with the Tigers as he put up a wRC+ of 21. However, this past season, he put up decent numbers as one of the Washington Nationals utility men. While it was a small sample size of just 91 plate appearances, Harrison put up a 107 wRC+, which was the first time he was considered an above average hitter since 2017. This earned him another contract with the Nats for this upcoming season.

dark. Next. 2021 Outlook: Sam Howard

While Harrison wasn’t the most famous player in Pittsburgh Pirates’ history, he did his job and collected 11.1 fWAR throughout his time with the Bucs. He was overall a slightly below league average bat with a 98 wRC+ and .315 wOBA, however, most of his value was in his ability to play multiple positions to at least an average level. He was also a fan favorite and a key cog on three postseason teams in 2013, 2014 and 2015.