Matt Harrison was one of my guys coming into the season. He was being valued well outside the top-75 starting pitchers in the pre-season (his ADP among SP in the pre-season hovered around 90). Of course, this seemed a little crazy to me because he was a well thought of prospect (#3 in the Braves system behind Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Elvis Andrus going into 2007 and #90 overall prospect per BA; #79 overall prospect per BP) coming off a season in which he was a top-50 fantasy pitcher while only throwing 185 innings. Not to mention, he was an important piece of the Mark Teixeira trade between the Rangers and Braves (it’s still crazy how great that haul was for Texas).
I wrote a post in October back at Roto Hardball (which I cannot link to, as the site is now defunct) comparing Harrison to fellow rotation-mate Derek Holland. Here’s an excerpt: “When you hear Harrison and Holland compared, there’s the underlying narrative that Holland is much younger, has higher upside and better stuff. In reality, they are much closer than you think in all three areas.” My conclusion was that I’d rather have Harrison for the 2012 season and going forward in long-term leagues — which has appeared to be a good call so far, as Harrison is the #27 fantasy SP this year, compared to Derek Holland at #55.
We now have two seasons of data telling us that Matt Harrison indeed carries real fantasy value in even the shallowest of leagues. Clearly, the biggest attribute to Harrison’s value the past two seasons have been his wins and his ERA. So how likely is Harrison to maintain these stats and translate them into long-term fantasy success? Personally, I like his chances. Let’s start with ERA. I still don’t feel particularly comfortable predicting a 3.25 ERA going forward, but he should realistically be expected to post one between 3.50 and 3.75. Harrison has maintained a career high ground ball rate this year (50.1%) and a career low walk rate (2.47 BB/9) — which would qualify him for #holytrinity status if his strikeout rate was higher. On top of that, he gets the privilege of pitching in front of a well above average infield defense (both Beltre and Andrus are plus-plus defenders, Kinsler and Moreland are above average). This bears out in the numbers, as Harrison has allowed a .215 AVG on ground balls, which is 20 points lower than league average.
The wins is a more interesting debate, as it hinges both on the points made when talking about ERA and team offensive performance. You might first take a glance at his 17 wins and say that Harrison benefited from great run support, being fortunate enough to have the high powered Rangers offense behind him. However, Harrison got the least run support of any ERA qualifying Rangers starter — and was only 33rd in the league (not even in the top 1/3). So what makes the biggest difference in Harrison getting wins? Pitch efficiency. There have been four starters in all of baseball who have gone eight innings or more in a start at least nine times. Those starters are: Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw and Matt Harrison. That’ll help get decisions, and certainly plays a part in why Harrison has only earned three no decisions on the season.
I own Matt Harrison in two different dynasty leagues and I am not “selling high” on him. In fact, in both leagues, I plan on giving him a 3 or 4 year contract extension. He’s a talented pitcher who has above-average stuff, goes deep into games, has a high-powered offense in front of him and has an above-average defense behind him. He has shown that with his ground ball tendencies, he can survive pitching in Arlington just fine. Plus, and I will make this comment about every AL West pitcher this off-season, it never hurts to add the worst team in baseball to your division (the Astros). I believe he’s done enough to make himself a top-50 pitcher for fantasy, and he will still pitch the vast majority of the 2013 season at the age of 27. If the Harrison owner in your league is nervous and wants to get out from under him, take him up on it.