Deep Sleeper Spotlight: Matt Harrison

For those who listen to the Fantasy Baseball Roundtable, you heard my declaration for the “Are You Crazy” segment, when I predicted that the Rangers Matt Harrison would finish in the Top 7 of the 2009 AL Cy Young Award voting.  I know that seems unrealistic, and to be honest, that is the whole point of the segment on the show.  The truth of the matter is that I really do feel like he is a tremendous sleeper for 2009 and has the chance to be a value pick for owners.

First, let’s look at the numbers he posted last season, which certainly will support the fact that maybe I am a little crazy:

9 Wins
83.2 Innings
5.49 ERA
1.57 WHIP
42 Strikeouts (4.52 K/9)
31 Walks (3.33 BB/9)
.312 BABIP

I know, those numbers do not look very promising.  In fact, they look downright scary for the former third round pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2003.  So why do I think there’s a chance that he suddenly puts up significantly better numbers then he did last season?

First, let’s take a look at how he fared in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) prior to getting his chance to pitch at the major league level in 2008:

38.0 IP (6 starts), 3-1, 3.55 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 20 K’s (4.74 K/9), 14 BB (3.32 BB/9).

I know it is a small sample size, but the ERA is promising considering that the PCL is a notoriously high-powered league.  It is not uncommon to see some of the most promising pitching prospects putting up ERA’s in the 4’s or 5’s.  In fact, there were only 4 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title last season who posted an ERA under 4, and one of those pitcher’s ERA was 3.98.

I know the other numbers are not very intriguing.  The WHIP is uninspiring and he just doesn’t get many strikeouts.  There is hope, as the numbers were better in the lower levels of the minors and others have certainly seen his promise.  Prior to the 2007 season, Baseball America had him ranked as the Braves #3 prospect, behind Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Elvis Andrus.  They compared him to Tom Glavine, saying that:

  • “He’s adept at using both sides of the plate and altering the batter’s eye level”
  • His fastball is “heavy” and sits between 89-92
  • He also features a curveball and changeup that are considered quality pitches

That type of make-up would certainly give optimism that he should pick up some more strikeouts as he continues to mature and learn.  In Texas, he has two great minds to pick and learn from, which certainly should help.  First of all, the best strikeout pitcher ever in Nolan Ryan is the team’s president and certainly is a resource, even though he was a drastically different type of pitcher then Harrison is.

The other is Mike Maddux, who is considered one of the better pitching coaches in baseball and joins the team this season.  He certainly should be able to help Harrison harness his ability and get him more consistent.  And, to be honest, consistency is what Harrison’s needs most.

When you look at his major league numbers last season, it is certainly an interesting split.

In his 9 Wins:
59.0 IP, 2.78 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 33 K (5.03 K/9), 17 BB (2.59 BB/9)

In his other 6 starts:
24.2 IP, 13.03 ERA, 2.68 WHIP, 9 K (3.35 K/9), 14 BB (5.21 BB/9)

That type of split screams of a lack of consistency, not lack of talent.  When he was bad, he was extremely, extremely bad.  When he was good, he was extremely good, including wins against the Angels, Yankees and Red Sox.

Can guys like Ryan & Maddux help get him to avoid those blow-ups?  Could his experience help him continue to mature?  Personally, I really believe that he will put things together, the real question is to what extent.

With the Rangers not yet bringing in any starting pitchers, he seems as close to a lock to open the season in the rotation as there is right now, joining names like Kevin Millwood, Vincente Padilla and Brandon McCarthy.  If he struggles, it could mean a quick hook, especially with talent like Neftali Feliz & Derek Holland waiting in the wings, but that’s not something that I’m worrying about yet.

There isn’t a reason to fear an innings cap, as he threw 167.2 innings last season between Double A, Triple A and the majors.  I think the strikeouts are going to increase a bit, though obviously not to an elite level.  Will he reach the 6 K/9 ratio?  Maybe, maybe not, but it should certainly be close, not the ridiculously low number he posted last season.  His stuff is just too good to be that inept at getting swings and misses.

He hasn’t shown the ability to go deep into games, even when he was winning last season.  He went a little over 6 innings per start in those wins, leaving the opportunity for the bullpen to let the lead slip away.  We certainly aren’t talking about one of the great bullpens in the league, so it’s possible that he loses a few wins.  That certainly is a knock against him.

The WHIP is going to come down a bit from where he was last season, though it is not going to be among the league leaders.  He just doesn’t have the control for that, and that’s fine.  As long as he doesn’t hurt you, which I wouldn’t expect him to, it shouldn’t be a problem.

He plays in a ballpark that’s conducive to some bad numbers, there’s no doubt about that.  Still, his minor league track record of keeping the ball in the ballpark is promising, as is the description of his fastball as “heavy” by Baseball America.  He had a HR/9 of 1.29 last season, but that’s a number that I fully expect to drop in 2009.  When he could put his HR/9 to 0.71 in the PCL, even in just 6 starts, there is plenty of reason for hope.

Let’s take a look at the numbers I’m projecting for him:

185.0 IP, 14 W, 3.99 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 124 K (6.03 K/9), 62 BB (3.02 BB/9)

OK, so those numbers are certainly not going to put him in the AL Cy Young race, we all know that.  Still, they are significantly solid numbers and ones that I would like to have on my team at the back end of my staff.  To me, he’s an excellent sleeper, and one that very few others are going to be looking at.  I think the ERA is the number that will probably catch people’s eye and I agree it is very optimistic.  He could fall on the other side of 4, though I think he’ll be right around it.

Where would I draft him?  Definitely for my bench, if even at all.  With this type of risk, the best course of action could be leaving him on the waiver wire and seeing how he performs over the first few starts of the season.  If it looks promising, then grab him as quickly as possible.  Still, if you have a deep enough bench, he’s the type of risk that I would like to stash away.  Its high risk, high reward, and I’m thinking he’s going to provide a payoff.  We’ve all learned that quality pitching can come from surprising sources, haven’t we?

Am I being overly optimistic?  Do you think I am a little bit crazy, even for expecting him to produce the numbers that I have?

4 comments

  1. Ryan says:

    Ithink a little. His numbers could be inflated in his home games.

  2. big o says:

    eric :

    a walk rate 3.33/9 , a Whip of 1.57 , an ERA of 5.49 and a
    .312 BABIP suggests to me that he is pitching to contact .

    sorry , but it just doesn’t seem (to me) that he’s fooling anybody .

    to suggest that , all of a sudden , his K rate will increase by a point and a half seems ambitious .

    maybe mike maddux will have a positive influence on him and produce the results you are projecting , but i don’t see where nolan ryan will come into play . i don’t see him being “hands on” beyond laying out a work-out regimen for the entire staff to follow .

    while i certainly wish you nothing but the best for 2009 , 11 wins (max) seems more likely .

    lets suppose a BB/9 of 2.95 and a drop in BABIP to .290 , could you suggest a projected Whip # for me ?

    thanking you , in advance .

  3. admin says:

    Big O, I agree that it is a bit optimistic, but that’s why I’m classifying him as a deep sleeper. It is obviously far from a guarantee that he reaches the plateaus I listed, and in fact it could be a pipe dream. That’s why I’m suggesting monitoring him on the waiver wire.

    The numbers you are giving is pretty similar to what I projected Harrison out at. It would also depend on a few other factors, but I have it as a 1.30 WHIP, though a few other factors would have to be taken into account, like the K rate and the HR rate. If we change those things, the WHIP is going to change also (as he’ll be giving up more or less hits to get to the BABIP your suggesting).

  4. I’m aware of Harrison, but I’ve never sat down and researched him like you have. That said, I’m made wary by the fact that one of the data points you are quoting to support your position is that he was described two years ago as having a ‘heavy fastball’. The fact you repeat that tidbit a few paragraphs later makes it even less impressive. Either you put this together in a heck of a hurry or there’s not much encouraging info on this guy, and not even a decent Googlable scouting report any time in the last couple of years.

    This is a smart website, you’re a smart guy and I doubt you’ll be betting your house on this projection of Harrison. Nevertheless it sounds very much like you are reaching here – as if you like the guy and are trying to find any evidence to support that position. If I’m wrong, well, I’ll look forward to Rotoprofessor’s Baseball America 2007 Fastball Heaviness Metric and seeing how it stacks up against those old fashioned methods like K/BB, K/9, K/BF, FIP… .

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