2015 Fantasy Baseball: Josh Harrison is the New J-Hay
I don’t think I’m going way out on a limb here by stating that Josh Harrison’s 2014 campaign was one which few people saw coming. The Pittsburgh Pirates super-utility player not only made the All-Star team last season but was a fantasy all-star for any owner that plucked him off of waivers early in the season. There was so much to like about Harrison’s performance last season, but as we move into forecasting and projecting the player pool for 2015, what can we expect from him moving forward?
Harrison will enter this season as the Pirates everyday third baseman after playing all over the diamond in 2014. His multi-position eligibility is a boon for fantasy owners, with the option to play him at second base and in the outfield along with his true position at the hot corner. He even appeared in 8 games at shortstop. He’s even more appealing in leagues that utilize the CI/MI slots. I can’t overemphasize how valuable the eligibility piece is, and it should be part of the equation when evaluating any fantasy asset. It not only allows flexibility on a daily basis when you’re deciding on who to start or sit, but it doesn’t pigeonhole your waiver claim options either. For example, if the best waiver option is a third baseman and your second baseman is struggling, you can make that move and not think twice about it.
More important is J-Hay’s production on the field. Before we go any further, here’s a look back at Harrison’s fantasy stat line from last season, along with a look at his Steamer Projection for 2015:
That’s some pretty solid across-the-board production from a would-be utility player. I think the popular opinion heading into draft season will be that Harrison offers very little upside while possessing loads of risk. While nothing in the chart above jumps off the page as elite, remember that his .315 average nearly won him the NL batting crown and the league average BA was .251 last season. At first glance, his average appears unsustainable and was driven by his .353 BABIP. I agree that it is high and he’s unlikely to duplicate that number, but some will fail to take into consideration the batted ball profile that’s driving his BABIP.
Hard-hit rate is one of those elusive stats that isn’t readily available to the public yet, but ESPN’s Mark Simon often tweets it out during the season, and I find it to be a valuable piece to the puzzle when trying to predict batting average. By definition, hard-hit rate is the percentage of at-bats that end in a hard hit ball. It is subjectively determined by a video review team using measures like exit velocity, trajectory and contact on the sweet spot. Josh Harrison was among the league leaders all season, and his 21.2% hard-hit rate was in the top 15 at season’s end. (For context, league average is about 16%). After the All-Star break, most were waiting for the glass slipper to fall off and it never happened. It was a fun story but not sustainable. His response: a .332 second half and a run at the batting title.
If you dig deep into Harrison’s approach at the plate, you’ll find an aggressive hitter that’s not going to walk as frequently as you’d like a top of the order hitter to walk, but he did make strides here in comparison to previous seasons. The spike in power, while surprising, seems relatively sustainable. His 7.7% HR/FB passes the smell test, and his GB/FB rate does as well. I think the Steamer projection of 12 home runs is a safe, bankable number for 2015. He was able to steal enough bases to continue to attempt them, but was caught enough to put a wet blanket on any expected growth here in 2015, but it’s not a concern in the short-term. At the end of the day his fantasy value hinges on his ability to hit .280+. Obviously this will drive his OBP and counting stats, and most importantly, keep him in the Pirates lineup every day.
Follow Ryan on Twitter, @RyNoonan.