Matt Harrison’s Two-Seam Fastball Makes Him an All-Star

Here are the stats for Matt Harrison and David Price over the past two seasons:

Harrison: 291 IP, 3.31 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 3.86 xFIP, 6.8 WAR
Price: 329 IP, 3.31 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 3.31 xFIP, 6.7 WAR

Those are pretty similar numbers, which are even more impressive when you consider that Harrison pitches in Arlington while Price throws in Tampa Bay. Needless to say, Harrison has been an underrated pitcher over the past few years. He has the 16th highest WAR since the start of 2011, but what is he doing so well that makes him one of the top pitchers in the game over the past two seasons?

The answer is a heavy reliance on his two-seam fastball, a pitch that has a ton of horizontal movement. Over the past two seasons, David Price is the only pitcher that gets more horizontal movement from his two-seam fastball than Matt Harrison — who gets 11.5 inches of movement. This includes right-handed pitchers, as Max Scherzer‘s -11.3 tops the league for righties during this time frame. Even considering sinkers, which can often be labeled two-seamers and vice versa, Harrison still sits behind only Price in horizontal movement. It is no surprise that his two-seam pitch values, according to PITCHf/x, have been his highest on a per pitch and total base since the start of 2011.

The heavier reliance on his two-seamer, he now throws it over 43% of the time compared to 33% last season and under 30% the season before, has allowed him to improve his ground ball rate from 46.6% to 47.5% to this year’s 52.1%, a very good strategy with one of the league’s top defensive infields playing behind him. Harrison does not strikeout batters at a high clip, but his numbers do look very Tim Hudson-esque over the past two seasons with his ability to get weak contact from a horizontally focused two-seam fastball.

Tim Hudson‘s career stats of 3.42 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 3.75 xFIP, and 58.8% GB rate look comparable to what Harrison has done over the past two years. Hudson has induced more ground balls over the course of his career, but he also has more pitches — such as his split-fingered fastball and cutter — that lead to more ground balls while Harrison really just has the two-seamer and four-seamer.

Harrison’s impressive performance and improvements have gone relatively unnoticed to the majority of the general public despite the success of the Texas Rangers over the past few years. Some have considered Harrison’s All-Star selection by his manager Ron Washington to be a homer pick, but his performance merits the distinction. He is not a glamorous pitcher with gaudy strikeout rates or a top control pitcher with tremendous command of all of his pitches, but he posts a solid strikeout-to-walk rate and generates a ton of movement from his primary pitch — which makes him a very effective pitcher despite throwing in one of the league’s most hitter friendly ballparks.



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Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.


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Alex
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Alex
4 years 24 days ago

Their ERAs and FIPs are virtually identical, yet Price has a xFIP 0.50 lower and 38 more innings, and yet, Harrison has the higher WAR? (albeit slightly). Anyone care to explain how?

Tyler
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Tyler
4 years 24 days ago

park factor and FIP, not xFIP, is used to calculate pitcher WAR

Alex
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Alex
4 years 24 days ago

Ah. Thank you, both.

Paul
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Paul
4 years 24 days ago

If you’re one of the few people left who relies only on FIP, sure Harrison is real good. But with Price there is convergence between FIP, xFIP, and the best predictor of future ERA: SIERA (still bizarrely ignored here at FG). Harrison’s SIERA has been just over 4.00 two years running. Because his SO% is below league average. He’s not an all-star. Has there ever been a stronger argument for defense-supported pitching stats than Harrison?

I hate to say this site cherry picks almost as much as talk radio guys who don’t even know what FIP is.

Tyler
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Tyler
4 years 24 days ago

Yes I often wonder why SIERA is not discussed more year. I think such has to do with FIP used in pitcher WAR, but I agree SIERA needs to get a LOT more play.

t ball
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t ball
4 years 24 days ago

Not an all-star? Who has been snubbed that should be ahead of Harrison? You could put Hammel on there, or Peavy, I suppose, but Harrison hardly seems like a bad choice. CJ Wilson has a worse FIP, xFIP, and SIERA than Harrison. I’d rather see Harrison, Hammel or Peavy on the roster than Wilson if you’re going to use xFIP and SIERA.

But the all star game isn’t about predictive value, so I don’t see the point in favoring those over FIP, WAR, and all of the other factors that should be looked at.

John
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John
4 years 24 days ago

“Even considering sinkers, which can often be labeled two-seamers and vice versa…”

Because that is what they are.

DD
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DD
4 years 24 days ago

Two-seamers can have big horizontal movement, as opposed to big downward movement in a true sinker. I think Harrison is comparable to Vance Worley, actually.

John
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John
4 years 24 days ago

My point is, I don’t know any pro pitcher who says he has a two-seamer and a sinker. It’s just kind of synonymous. He may use the verbiage interchangably. Listening to Harrison, he’s calling the pitch a “sinker”.

mwash1983
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mwash1983
4 years 24 days ago

The Teixeria trade was one of the worst trades in recent history. 3 AS for 1.5 years of Tex and no playoffs.

Tex Pantego
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Tex Pantego
4 years 24 days ago

Another big part of his success is, he can effectively throw off-speed in hitter’s counts.

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