Pirates' Harrison has proven he's legit

Josh Harrison has made a lot of folks happy this season and his reward is an All-Star appearance. AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

You may think that Pittsburgh Pirates infielder/outfielder Josh Harrison is on the All-Star team simply because of his versatility in the field.

But there's a pretty good case to be made that Harrison belongs on merit regardless of where he plays. As Dejan Kovacevic wrote in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last week, Harrison is the kind of player that everyone can like, and that's particularly true if you're into advanced statistics.

Harrison is going to play more this season than any other season in his career, and that's because both the numbers and the eye test show that he can do just about everything well. He has been worth 2.2 Wins Above Replacement this season. The Pirates are 30-21 when he starts and 17-23 when he doesn't.

He can hit

"Every at-bat is different, because of the count, the number of outs and the pitcher, but nothing really changes for you," Harrison said by phone on Wednesday. "Your objective is to have a good at-bat."

And what's a good at-bat for Harrison?

"Hard contact," he said.

Harrison has had a lot of that this season. ESPN uses a service that reviews video of every at-bat and rates balls as hard-hit, medium-hit and soft-hit based on velocity, distance and sweet-spot contact.

Harrison ranks 15th in the major leagues in the percentage of at-bats that have ended with hard-hit contact (22.5 percent). That's ahead of players like Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton and not far behind teammate Andrew McCutchen.

It's not the first time Harrison has put up good hard-hit numbers. His hard-hit rate was 22 percent two seasons ago in a year when good results didn't come with the hard-hit balls (a .233 batting average).

"Maybe some of the people [who chart that] are surprised, because they hadn't seen me hit before," Harrison said. "But this is what I've been doing all my life. I've always had a pretty good idea of what I want to hit."

Harrison is hitting .391 (18-for-46) with runners in scoring position, and has gotten his share of clutch hits (including a recent walk-off double against the New York Mets). He's also hitting .382 the second and third times he faces a starting pitcher (34-for-89), perhaps indicative that he's winning the battle of adjustments.

"The more familiar you are with a guy, the more you see his arm angle and see his pitches, the higher the probability of hitting the ball harder," he said.

Harrison doesn't profess to have a thinking-intensive approach, but it's clear he knows what he’s doing. The image below shows he covers both halves of the plate well:

"He trusts himself, he trusts his ability and he stays committed to his plan," said Pirates hitting coach Jeff Branson.

He can field

That Harrison ranks among the top 20 players in Defensive Runs Saved is amazing, considering he hasn't made more than 24 starts at any one position.

But he's been good everywhere he's played, combining for nine Defensive Runs Saved.

"I feel like I've always been able to play defense," Harrison said. "It's just a matter of getting the opportunity. I feel comfortable everywhere except pitcher and catcher." (When reminded that he did pitch once in a mop-up role, he added, "I don't know if 72 miles per hour is gonna cut it.")

The Pirates are an active team as far as defensive positioning is concerned. But they give their players leeway to adjust.

"At the end of the day, our job is to get to the ball," Harrison said. "They say if you see a guy doing something, feel free to move a step or two. I do that a lot. I wouldn’t say it's thinking. It's trusting my instincts."

He can run

The play you most likely know Harrison for is him eluding a rundown with what he calls his "stop, drop and roll" move.

"I have two older brothers who I was always trying to escape from, growing up," Harrison said with a laugh. "I'm pretty sure at one point [when I was little], I tried to blackmail them with 'I'm gonna tell mom and dad that you wouldn't let me play.' They'd chase me and I'd try to escape."

That aside, Harrison gets the job done on the basepaths. He's 9-for-12 on steal attempts and has scored from first base five times in six opportunities in which he was on base when a double was hit.

The package

A scout who has followed Harrison’s entire pro career (which started as a sixth-round pick by the Cubs out of the University of Cincinnati) offered this take: "Josh has some punch in his bat, good plate coverage for a smaller guy and is a good bad-ball hitter, which is very tough to achieve at the major league level. He has the athleticism to play all over. But a lot of guys possess those physical skills. He's got the plus makeup, where it doesn't faze him where he's playing in the field, and whether he's coming off the bench or starting. He brings the same great energy regardless."

Sounds All-Star worthy to me.