To the surprise of many, the Pittsburgh Pirates are one of the top teams in baseball in the early weeks of the season. And even though there was trade talk surrounding him this offseason, the team should stick with Josh Harrison for the duration of 2018.
He saw two high caliber teammates in Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole be shipped out of town for multiple young and controllable players, a sign that seemed to signify the organization was entering a different phase for the next few years.
However, early returns indicate that 2018 is more of a retooling rather than rebuilding effort, so Harrison would be more valuable as a member of the team instead of a trade chip as long as they continue to win
So far this season, Harrison is slashing .313/.370/.417 with a home run through 48 at-bats. He’s walking 9.3 percent of the time, which if he keeps it up will be by far the highest mark of his career.
Not only that, but he is currently only striking out 11.1 percent of the time he goes to the plate, which would be the best he has posted since 2013. His BABIP of .333 would be the best he has posted since the .336 he compiled in 2015 and the wRC+ of 121 would be since he had a 137 during his breakout season in 2014.
Harrison’s batted ball data also shows why he is having such success at the plate this season and why he is more valuable to the team on the field than as a trade piece.
The percentage of his hits that call into the hard hit category is at 37.2, much higher than his career mark of 29.2. He’s also pulling the ball 48.8 percent of the time, by far the most in his career (his previously career high is 45.4, which should surprise no one that came during 2014).
While Harrison’s average exit velocity (85.07 MPH) is a few notches below the league average (88.80 MPH), he appears to have bought into the trend that a better launch angle can bring more success at the plate. Harrison’s average launch angle of 19.07 degrees is much better than the league average of 12.59 degrees, which should help him continue to generate a decent number of flyballs.
If Harrison can maintain and improved launch angle and add some MPH to his exit velocity, it should only be a matter of time until he starts driving more balls into the bleachers.
There are plenty of reasons that Harrison is more useful as a member of the 2018 Pirates as opposed to a trade chip.
First, he can play multiple positions around the field, so he gives Clint Hurdle some roster flexibility. This is useful asset to Harrison’s profile because in the event that one of his teammates gets hurt, he can make is easier for Hurdle to juggle the playing time as needed.
If this team is the real deal (and it’s a long season, so let’s not jump to any conclusions), Harrison was a member of the organization when it made the playoffs from 2013-2015, so he is familiar with the drive for a postseason spot and with playing in October.
Harrison’s contract also has two fairly team friendly options for 2019 and 2020 at $10 and $11 million respectively. If he is able to approach the level of production he had in 2014 or even last year, he could give the team a great return on their investment.
Obviously, there are some scenarios where the team should entertain offers for Harrison.
If the season takes a drastic turn for the worse and the team begins to stumble, they should absolutely listen to what potential trade partners are offering for him. It’s highly unlikely that any trade of Harrison would bring back a top tier prospect, but he could be worth a useful player or two in a trade.
The team also has Kevin Kramer knocking at the door and he should be ready at some point this season.
The team has a history of moving increasingly more expensive players when cheaper players who are under control for many years are ready to join the parent club.
But right now, Harrison looks like he could be a huge asset to this team if they continue to play this well and surprise the baseball world by competing in 2018.