Game 45, Rangers at Mariners
Hector Noesi vs. Matt Harrison, 7:10pm
Lefty Matt Harrison was a big part of the Rangers pennant-winning staff last year. He put up a 4 WAR season, going 14-9 with a low 3 ERA. Armed with a plus fastball and a good curve, he’d struggled at times against right-handers, but the development of a solid to plus change-up took care of that. Instead of ugly platoon splits, he was actually better against righties than lefties in 2011. It goes for anyone hoping to survive the Ballpark in Arlington, but Harrison was able to keep the ball in the ballpark last year, hence his tidy FIP. He was more than just a HR/FB mirage, as his xFIP wasn’t too shabby either.
This year, his K:BB’s about the same, his ground ball rate’s exactly the same, but his ERA’s over 5. First, his great HR/FB ratio’s regressed and it’s now about where it was when he was seen as an enigmatic, injury-prone youngster. Second, he’s getting torched by righthanders – righties have a .406 wOBA off of Harrison, with extra-base hits in over 11% of their plate appearances and they’ve got a .368 BABIP off of him.
He’s lost about 1mph off of his fastball compared to last year, but so have a lot of pitchers. His change-up doesn’t look any different from a movement perspective, and his curve’s generated better results. He’s shifted to his two-seam FB more than his four-seamer, presumably to boost his grounder rate, but the shift isn’t massive. So is he a regression candidate? Well, yes, sure.
The problem is knowing what mean to regress him towards. Some might look at his career HR/FB and say that his 2011 was a fluke, and that he’s always going to have a bit of a HR problem. Others might weight 2011 much more heavily given that it’s more recent and he pitched so much more. Some might argue that Harrison can’t survive with an average fastball against righties – that he doesn’t use the offspeed pitch enough to prevent hitters from sitting on his fastball. Others might say that it’s absurd to use 2012 splits to argue that he’s got a “problem” against righties and that a handful of balls in play can be spun into a grand narrative; and that evidence to support that narrative can be gathered after the fact.
Pitchers are weird. We talk about three true outcomes, and we should, because pitchers control them so much more than they do their BABIP, say. But everything we have is a sample of someone’s true talent – and true talent is always changing due to age, to a new pitch, or to something called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Matt Harrison is a pitcher; that we still don’t quite know what to make of him is *normal*. Part of what makes Felix (or Roy Halladay) so amazing is that the rules governing other pitchers just don’t seem to apply to him. Cherish this as much as you cherish Felix’s change-up.
Uh, but tonight we get to watch Hector Noesi. Go Hector Noesi!
The M’s line-up tonight has Wells, Ryan, Liddi and Montero in it because, y’know, Harrison’s getting torched by righties this year.
1: Ackley (DH)
2: Liddi (3B)
3: Ichiro (RF)
4: Montero (C)
5: Smoak (1B)
6: Seager (2B)
7: Wells (LF)
8: Saunders (CF)
9: Ryan (SS)