Unlike a former Texas Rangers pitcher who was voted by players to be the most overrated pitcher in baseball, Matt Harrison might be the most underrated. And that includes his own team. Before the season started, he was not even a lock for the rotation after posting a 4.2 fWAR season at 14-9 a season ago. Why doesn't Harrison inspire respect for his pitching? Frankly, it is baffling. No, he does not strike out a gaggle of hitters. He is not going to overpower you. He is just going to get you out and keep his team in the game. He is now tied for the American League lead in wins. Do folks outside of Texas even know that?
Since the beginning of 2011, Matt Harrison has gone 22-12. While we all know that wins is not the strongest of statistics, that is still pretty impressive. And in that time, Fangraphs ranks him tied for the seventeenth best pitcher in the majors. That is more impressive still. Only that overrated guy, the former Rangers' guy, is rated better of all pitchers who have worn the Rangers' uniform. And this is a guy who was not a lock for the rotation at the start of the season? Whuh?
Matt Harrison pitches half of his starts in Texas, where the ball carries like it wears sails. And yet, Harrison has only allowed twenty homers in his last forty-four starts. His home runs per nine innings last year was an impressive 0.63 and this year is at 0.73. Part of the reason is that he is a ground ball pitcher. His ground ball to fly ball ratio is 1.7 and 51 percent of his batted balls are hit on the ground. But that does not tell the entire story either. Of the balls he does allow in the air, only 8.4 percent of them end up as homers. So, despite his home ballpark, he does not wreck his outings with the long ball.
And Harrison's control is getting better too. Last year's walk rate of 2.8 walks per nine was the best of his short career. But this year he is even stingier with a rate of 2.1. This has allowed him to have a higher strikeout to walk ratio even though his strikeouts are down a bit from a year ago.
Most people who think of Matt Harrison think of last year's post season when he went 0-2 and did not pitch well. The suspicion here is that Harrison had just finished throwing the most innings of his career and was gassed by the playoffs. Look for things to be much different this year if the Rangers again make it to the playoffs.
PitchF/X data shows that Harrison is relying more and more each season on the two-seam (or sinking) fastball. His reliance on that pitch have increased every season including this one. His percentage rates of using that pitch have risen from 18.8 percent in 2009 to 33 percent last year. This year, he is using the pitch 41.4 percent of the time. Of all his pitches, his least effective seems to be a cutter that he throws about seven percent of the time. He should probably just ditch that pitch.
Harrison is not the kind of pitcher who gets batters to chase his pitches. His O-swing rate of 28 percent shows that batters wait for him to throw strikes. That he has lowered his walk rate despite that batter patience is even more impressive. The data shows that his first-pitch strikes have risen dramatically this season from 56 percent last year to 60.1 percent this year. Getting ahead of the batters can only help him in his contests.
Harrison is also getting deeper into games this season. Last year, he averaged 6.17 innings per start. This year, that statistic is over 6.6 innings.
Harrison is only 26 years old and has a bright future. He will be arbitration eligible next season and should be locked up before that day comes. His team does not believe in him as much as perhaps this writer does. And that's a pity. He is a really good pitcher and the Rangers would be a seriously weaker team without him. Harrison is truly one of the most underrated starting pitchers in baseball.