Josh Harrison Should Have To Earn The Second Base Job

In 2016, Josh Harrison was the Pirates’ starting second baseman. However, he should not be locked into this position for 2017.

Baseball season is here, yay! Today, pitchers and catchers report to Bradenton for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team’s first full squad workout will be this weekend.

As Spring Training begins the starting eight for the Pirates appears to be pretty set in stone. One position, however, that I believe should be a battle is second base. This is because Josh Harrison has not hit enough to have a death grip on the positions.

The 2016 season was Josh Harrison’s first as the Pirates’ everyday second baseman. Prior to 2016 he had been a super utility man for the Bucs, however, he was still essentially a starting player the previous two seasons.

Defensively, Harrison was excellent in 2016. He finished the season with +8 defensive runs saved at second base. This was good for the fourth highest among all Major League second basemen, while it was the best among National League second basemen.

During the 2016 season Josh Harrison’s issue most certainly was not defense. His problem is the same one that has plagued him throughout his Major League career: offense. And it is due to his poor offensive numbers that he should not be locked into being the Pirates’ second baseman in 2017.

In 2016 Josh Harrison ranked last among 21 qualifying second basemen in wRC+ (87), while checking in at 18th in both walk rate (3.4 percent) and on-base percentage (.311). Furthermore, he was 20th in slugging percentage (.388), wOBA (.301), and ISO (.105). Harrison’s 27.7 percent hard contact rate and 19.5 percent line drive rate were both the second lowest of his career.

These numbers should not come as a surprise. Minus a 2015 season that continues to look more and more like a fluke, he has always been a below average hitter. His lifetime on-base percentage (.316), walk rate (3.5 percent), and ISO (.126) are all below league average. Meanwhile, his wRC+ of 101 is one point above the league average of 100. And these numbers include his fluke of a 2015 campaign when he slugged .490, got on base at a .347 clip, and he put up a .175 ISO while posting a 137 wRC+.

Poor offense is not the only reason Harrison should not be guaranteed a starting job in 2017. There is one other big reason for this. That reason is the emergence of Adam Frazier.

One of the bright spots for the Pirates in 2016 was rookie Adam Frazier. In his first 160 career plate appearances Adam Frazier slashed .301/.356/.411/.767 with a .335 wOBA, a 110 wRC+, and a 7.5 percent walk rate.

Jun 24, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Adam Frazier (26) hits an RBI single against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the second inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 24, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Adam Frazier (26) hits an RBI single against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the second inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While Frazier’s numbers came in a small sample size there is reason to believe his results are sustainable over a full season’s worth of plate appearances. First off, his 7.5 percent walk rate is right about league average. Due to this, there is reason to believe he can still get on base at a good rate.

Secondly, there are Frazier’s contact rates. Adam Frazier posted a 31.4 percent hard contact rate and a line drive of 33.1 percent were both well above league average. Even though these two numbers should regress some in 2017, he should still generate enough hard contact to be an offensive threat once again.

Adam Frazier is the anti-Josh Harrison. Not only is he, unlike Harrison, an above league average hitter, but his defense is not as stellar as Harrison’s. While Harrison was a +8 DRS player at second base in 2016, Frazier posted a DRS of 0.

While Josh Harrison is an above average defensive second baseman, Adam Frazier is just flat out average. Maybe even slightly below average. However, Frazier’s offense, in my opinion, has the potential to be plenty good enough to outweigh his defensive shortcomings.

If Frazier were a disaster at second base, then my opinion would change. But his defense is good enough that it makes getting his bat in the lineup worthwhile. Especially with how poor of a hitter Josh Harrison is.

As the 2017 season approaches, Josh Harrison is slated to be the Pirates’ everyday second baseman. This is something that I do not expect to change anytime soon. However, I believe that it should at least be a discussion.

Honestly, the Pirates probably have had this discussion already. Before he signed with the Atlanta Braves, the Pirates wanted to re-sign Sean Rodriguez. Their goal was to re-sign Rodriguez, trade Harrison, and then make Rodriguez the team’s everyday second baseman.

Due to poor offensive performance, Josh Harrison should have to battle to be the Pirates’ starting second baseman in 2017. If he comes out of the gates, struggles, and hits as he has throughout his career the Bucs need to give Adam Frazier more starts at second base. Especially if Frazier picks up where he left off as a rookie offensively.

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