PNC PARK – Clint Hurdle‘s job is more difficult, in a good way, with his entire lineup healthy.
After receiving at least three plate appearances in 16 straight games, and starting 15 of those games, Josh Harrison was held out of the starting lineup Wednesday, with the right-handed Chase Anderson starting for the Diamondbacks.
The Marte-McCutchen-Polanco outfield is healthy and productive. Pedro Alvarez is going to start at third against right-handed pitchers even though he’s playing defensively like a future first baseman (way too many plays have become adventures). No one is talking about Neil Walker giving up switch-hitting with a .280 average against lefties and a 106 wRC+ this season.
There’s no obvious position for Harrison unless you really believe he should be the everyday third baseman. And to that camp, I say ‘slow down.’
Depth is a great thing. But it can be difficult to manage. Depth and flexibility has in part turned the Oakland A’s into a power house but managing it requires creativity. I don’t think Harrison is an all-star level talent. But I do believe he has raised his stock. ZiPs has Harrison finishing as a 2.5 WAR player, which means he deserves substantial playing time.
So here’s my modest proposal, a four-part plan to getting Harrison in the starting lineup more often than not.
*The easiest way to carve playing for Harrison is to platoon him with Pedro Alvarez against left-handed pitching. Alvarez has a career .601 OPS against LHP and a .579 OPS this season. I’m afraid this is what he is: a platoon player. The problem with this is the Pirates have only faced 12 left-handed starters this season in the right-handed heavy, NL Central. So let’s say there’s 12 starts here the rest of the season and 50ish plate appearances. (Another positive for Pirates? It will suppress Alvarez’s counting numbers some, and future arbitration earnings).
*This is the most unconventional part of the plan: start Harrison at shortstop against left-handed heavy hitting opponents. Why left-handed heavy opponents? My theory is against heavy left-handed hitting teams, Harrison will often be swung around in the shift to behind second base or to the right of second base, mitigating the defensive liabilities he possesses at short. The Cubs, Cardinals, Phillies and Diamondbacks have the most left-handed bats in the National League. Harrison could start at shortstop against these teams. Remember, Harrison has played parts of 31 major league games at shortstop. That’s 21 more starts (minus three for overlap with LHP) and 85ish plate appearances.
*The third leg is an outfield rotation. Harrison starts one game a week in the outfield every week (unless there’s an injury) subbing in for McCutchen, Polanco, and Marte who get one rest day every three weeks. That’s 12 more starts.
*Harrison spells Walker five days the rest of the season.
That’s 50 starts in total, of the remaining 78 games. And including pinch-hitting opportunities, that’s probably about 250 plate appearances in the second half. That should be a target, imo. You can see the challenges of managing this lineup if everyone’s healthy but Harrison does deserve regular at bats. The biggest question I have is can play shortstop for an extend period?
THE EVOLVING CHARLIE MORTON
Charlie Morton‘s career-high, 11-strikeout performance in Tampa Bay caught our attention but really Morton had been evolving to become something of a strikeout artist in June when he averaged 10.97 Ks per nine innings. The spiked strikeout rate is tied to his curveball.
The quality of Morton’s curveball is also improving as you can see in his whiff rate by month.
June: 26.2 !!!
According to PITCHf/x data at Baseball Prospectus, Morton has the most horizontal on his cuveball in baseball among starting pitchers. Morton is averaging -10.7 inches of vertical movement. This is a very for real pitch.
There’s another level for Morton to reach. There’s still growth potential here.