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.