Yu Darvish has his partner at the top of the Rangers’ rotation for the next few years. Matt Harrison and the Rangers agreed Wednesday night to a five-year, $55 million dollar contract, making the 27-year-old an official piece of the Rangers’ ever-impressive core.
However, where Darvish has the ideal profile for a hitters’ heaven like Texas — swing-and-miss stuff with every pitch, giving him the ability to keep the ball off bats, much less out of the air — Harrison’s profile is nearly the opposite. Over the past two years, the lefty has sat near or even below the starter averages in both strikeout rate and contact rate, and he isn’t an extreme groundballer either.
Harrison has pitched through exceptional results the last two years, with his two straight sub-3.40 ERAs translating to ERA- totals under 80. At this level, he’s not just a solid pitcher to pair with Darvish, but a true ace — he compiled 10.6 RA9-WAR over the past two years. Only 10 pitchers have bested Harrison’s total, and he’s within half a win of Johnny Cueto, James Shields, CC Sabathia and Matt Cain (numbers six through ten).
Harrison probably can’t keep as many runners from scoring over the next half decade. Increased use of a solid sinker — up from 28 percent of the time in 2011 to 41 percent in 2012 — will help him keep the home runs down. The pitch has induced nearly three times as many ground balls as fly balls over his career and was slightly better as he cranked up the usage in 2012. Still, it takes too many fortuitous hops to keep 78 percent of runners from scoring even if the ball stays in the yard, so Harrison will likely be a little bit worse going forward.
But so what? Harrison still ranks 17th since 2011 in FIP-WAR at 8.2, within half a win of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Madison Bumgarner. He has great control and can keep the sinker in the zone as well (if not better) than his four-seamer. He’s capable of touching the mid-90s and doesn’t have the mediocre fastball typically associated with the pitch-to-contact player — particularly not one of the left-handed variety.
At $11 million per season ($13 million in the bought out free agent years), the Rangers are paying Harrison as just a slightly above-average starting pitcher. Harrison is young and has shown durability the last two seasons (62 starts). Even if his results fall back to his peripherals, Harrison will well outpitch his contract. Even if his home run rates and BABIP regress to the mean — and, it should be noted, the mean pitcher does not showcase as good a fastball, sinker, nor changeup as Harrison — Harrison will still be at or near the performance called for by this pact.
The Rangers have had their share of high-profile departures over the past few years, and at times it can be enough to make one forget about the talent remaining on the roster — particularly players like Harrison who lack star flair. Harrison’s new contract isn’t flashy either, but Jon Daniels and company have invested in one of the best 20 (or fewer) pitchers of the last two years with this move. Investments like this one will keep the Rangers competitive as they transition out of the Josh Hamilton era and through the second half of the decade.