Texas Extends Matt Harrison

Yu Darvish has his partner at the top of the Rangers’ rotation for the next few years. Matt Harrison and the Rangers agreed Wednesday night to a five-year, $55 million dollar contract, making the 27-year-old an official piece of the Rangers’ ever-impressive core.

However, where Darvish has the ideal profile for a hitters’ heaven like Texas — swing-and-miss stuff with every pitch, giving him the ability to keep the ball off bats, much less out of the air — Harrison’s profile is nearly the opposite. Over the past two years, the lefty has sat near or even below the starter averages in both strikeout rate and contact rate, and he isn’t an extreme groundballer either.

Harrison has pitched through exceptional results the last two years, with his two straight sub-3.40 ERAs translating to ERA- totals under 80. At this level, he’s not just a solid pitcher to pair with Darvish, but a true ace — he compiled 10.6 RA9-WAR over the past two years. Only 10 pitchers have bested Harrison’s total, and he’s within half a win of Johnny Cueto, James Shields, CC Sabathia and Matt Cain (numbers six through ten).

Harrison probably can’t keep as many runners from scoring over the next half decade. Increased use of a solid sinker — up from 28 percent of the time in 2011 to 41 percent in 2012 — will help him keep the home runs down. The pitch has induced nearly three times as many ground balls as fly balls over his career and was slightly better as he cranked up the usage in 2012. Still, it takes too many fortuitous hops to keep 78 percent of runners from scoring even if the ball stays in the yard, so Harrison will likely be a little bit worse going forward.

But so what? Harrison still ranks 17th since 2011 in FIP-WAR at 8.2, within half a win of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Madison Bumgarner. He has great control and can keep the sinker in the zone as well (if not better) than his four-seamer. He’s capable of touching the mid-90s and doesn’t have the mediocre fastball typically associated with the pitch-to-contact player — particularly not one of the left-handed variety.

At $11 million per season ($13 million in the bought out free agent years), the Rangers are paying Harrison as just a slightly above-average starting pitcher. Harrison is young and has shown durability the last two seasons (62 starts). Even if his results fall back to his peripherals, Harrison will well outpitch his contract. Even if his home run rates and BABIP regress to the mean — and, it should be noted, the mean pitcher does not showcase as good a fastball, sinker, nor changeup as Harrison — Harrison will still be at or near the performance called for by this pact.

The Rangers have had their share of high-profile departures over the past few years, and at times it can be enough to make one forget about the talent remaining on the roster — particularly players like Harrison who lack star flair. Harrison’s new contract isn’t flashy either, but Jon Daniels and company have invested in one of the best 20 (or fewer) pitchers of the last two years with this move. Investments like this one will keep the Rangers competitive as they transition out of the Josh Hamilton era and through the second half of the decade.

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Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

13 Responses to “Texas Extends Matt Harrison”

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  1. Impossibles says:

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who was completely shocked by the numbers he’s put up over the last couple years, but how many high contact/low k/9 pitchers are able to sustain that for 5 years? Isn’t that kind of Washburn/Guthrie/Tommy Hunter territory?

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    • Aggie E says:

      As said in the article he is not a soft-toss LH pitcher as he has a plus-FB and a solid changeup. He is said to be adding a slider that he needs for more Ks. That k/9 number should increase if this pitch is added…

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      • Spit Ball says:

        @Mr. Moore, Sinker? I’ve not watched much of his pitching but his player page clssifies none of his pitches as sinkers. His biggest 2012 change was within his fastball offerings. He threw more two seamers then before Does his two seamer sink. @Aggie, Has his slider dissappeared the last two years in favor of the curve. Pitch/Fx and Pitch type disagree. I’m gonna guess it’s a slider since it averages 6 ticks below his fastball. His stats have him about 27% four seamer, 36% two seamer, 15% curves, 8% siders and 14% changeup. His LOB% might stay good as well. 1/4 stolen base attempts against last year along with 3 pickoffs which makes for cautious leads at 1rst base. Low wild pitch and passed ball attempts atttempts help. I still see a skill set capable of a 75% LOB%.

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      • l1ay says:

        Two Seamer is a Sinker..

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    • Matt says:

      Washburn/Guthrie/Hunter or Hudson/Maddux/Blyleven/Kevin Brown/Gaylor Perry?

      True, Maddux is an outlier and Perry was a different type of pitcher. But high contact/low K/9 pitchers can be successful. High contact/low K/9 throwers cannot. I tend to think that Harrison is more of a pitcher.

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  2. Spit Ball says:

    This article ties so much of his value to his sinkers. Please Clarify because HE DOES NOT THROW A SINKER. Fangraphs is usually data based and you credit a pitcher with throwing a pitch he does not. His biggest change last year was throwing more two seamers then four seamers. If he does not throw a sinker, you do realize how lazy your article is, don’t you.

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    • Mr. Jones says:

      Sinkers and two-seamers are often interchangeable on the player pages. Get lost, troll.

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      • Spit Ball says:

        I’m not a troll and they are not the same pitch. Similiar grip different release and spin. I just watched video on him and that’s not a sinker. Certainly not a D Lowe or Halladay sinker. But thank you for pointing out how some of the pitch fx data is wrong. I had no idea MR. Jones (eyes roll).

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  3. Jthom17 says:

    Harrison has had a very number of double plays (21.7% in 12) the last 2 yrs which contrubted to his high LOB %. Probaly more luck than skill!

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  4. David says:

    Harrison has some other good traits such as a good move to first and decent defense

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  5. snowcourt says:

    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.”

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