Color me confused.
Everyone likes a shiny new toy, and with the rash of injuries the Pirates have had recently, plenty of new "toys" have arrived in Pittsburgh ready to perform for Pirates fans. Each new player comes surrounded by an air of hope and expectation, but each also comes with the baggage of past performance as well. We aren't seeing the arrival of an Andrew McCutchen or a Pedro Alvarez. No, we are seeing players with a limited pedigree, almost by definition, who are being promoted due to injury. Their control clocks aren't important. They are up because roster spots need to be filled. This doesn't mean they can't be successful. They certainly can be. But none of the recent additions are up because they forced the Pirates' hand with brilliant play.
Some have just arrived and may be here a while. Tony Watson and Tim Wood could well fit that bill - relatively unheralded, not young, but still with potential and coming off success at AAA. Watson has made two appearances, Wood one, and the early returns are good. It feels like they could both immediately be used in high-leverage situations and, in fact, Watson made his stirring debut late in a tie game and recorded two strikeouts.
The fanbase has already decided that two other recent arrivals aren't the answer and they are ready to move on. Dusty Brown and Wyatt Toregas fit that description, as 28-year old fourth and fifth-string catchers who are in the majors because of the rash of injuries Pirates catchers have had. Tony Sanchez and perhaps Eric Fryer are the future, but they have each played less than 50 games above Class A. Promoting them would be akin to putting the seventh-grader who is a great athlete on the high school baseball team. They aren't ready, so Brown and Toregas will hold down the fort, like it or not, for now.
Josh Harrison is the other recent addition to the roster. And this is where I get confused. The fans and the media love this guy. I see that there are things to like. The enthusiasm, the hustle and the speed are all very attractive. But, it seems to me the glasses are a little too rose-colored and perception is nowhere close to reality.
Josh Harrison turns 24 next month. He doesn't really have any "baggage" of past performance. He was a sixth-round draft pick of the Cubs in 2008 and he has hit for average throughout the minors. I do think his size, 5-foot-8, gives him the underdog-type label and fans always love the underdog. And hustle and enthusiasm are things every fan appreciates. But I have repeatedly heard people, and John Wehner on the radio this morning was the latest, say that Harrison has been "great" thus far.
Josh Harrison hasn't been great. In fact, I think you can make a pretty good argument Josh Harrison hasn't even been good. Of course we are talking about a very small sample size here, but we are discussing Harrison's major league performance to date and people are throwing around the term great, so it isn't about sample size, it's about actual results. Harrison has had 37 at bats this season and has 10 hits (three of the infield variety) for a .270 average and has struck out only one time. Those are the positives. The problem is that his on-base percentage is also .270. That is not good. And of the 10 hits, one hustling double is his only one that went for extra bases, so he is slugging .297. Also not good. His OPS is .568. By comparison Ronny Cedeno's OPS is .616, Alvarez's is .587 and Brandon Wood's is .585. Fans have David Eckstein-disease here. The little, scrappy guy who hustles must be good. So far the results are pointing in a different direction.
I asked Harrison if he was working on seeing more pitches or looking to be more selective and he responded directly and emphatically no, that he wants to go up there and swing the bat. His minor league stats bear that out. In 2009 he had 23 walks in 568 plate appearances, 4.1 percent, and in 2010 had 32 walks in 585 PAs, 5.6 percent. This year in Indy, 7 walks in 145 PAs, 4.8 percent. And, as noted, no walks in 38 plate appearances at the major league level. He is averaging 3.39 pitches per plate appearance vs. the major league average of 3.81.
Someone probably needs to get the message across to Harrison that he is going to have a very hard time staying in the majors if he doesn't at least walk a little. He is an average defender at best and he isn't going to hit for any power. He has speed but has only been successful on 65 of his 96 career minor-league stolen base attempts, 68 percent, which is also not very good. All of this means he is going to have to hit about .320 to have any value in the bigs. That is going to be tough to do.
I understand why people enjoy watching Harrison play and appreciate his enthusiasm and hustle. But don't throw around the word great or even good to discuss his performance in a small sample so far.
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