When reviewing the roster of a 114-loss team, most of the analysis will be more bad than good. Very few Detroit Tigers were even league average, and most of the roster was unimpressive in 2019. Josh Harrison took that to another level. While it might not be fair to criticize a player who was injured for most of the year, the second baseman had perhaps the least notable season possible.
Detroit signed Harrison to an extremely modest one-year deal worth just $2 million at the start of spring training. The hope was that the 31-year-old could be close to average offensively and continue some chemistry defensively with long-time teammate Jordy Mercer. Instead, Harrison struggled from the get-go and injured his hamstring in May, eventually ending his stint with the Tigers.
What went right in 2019?
There is not a whole lot to say here. Harrison... did have four steals in his 36 games played, which somehow put him tied for fifth on the entire team. He also was pretty good with the glove, recording a 3.1 UZR and a 10.8 UZR/150, both among the best marks on the team. While this is from a small sample — fielding metrics take a while to stabilize — his history suggests he likely would have been a decent defender at second.
Harrison was signed on a very low-risk contract, so the Tigers were never going to hurt too deeply, even if the worst-case scenario happened. Unfortunately, that is basically how the season played out for Harrison, so I guess no harm, no foul.
What went wrong in 2019?
For the first three weeks of the season, manager Ron Gardenhire slotted Harrison into the leadoff spot. The results were beyond disastrous. Harrison recorded just nine hits and five walks over 18 games for a .122/.195/.189 line, good for 0 wRC+ (!). Gardenhire recognized his mistake and moved Harrison back down to the sixth and seventh spots in the batting order, where his negative impact would be lessened.
Harrison went from horrendous to merely bad with his move in the order, although some of this may be sample size driven. His 49 wRC+ over the month leading up to his injury was still quite bad, and his ability to get on base and run — arguably his only real asset on offense these days — was still limited. The second baseman ended the year with an 18.4 percent strikeout rate compared to a 4.1 percent walk rate, driven by his desire to chase (41.6 percent O-Swing rate) and a modest overall contact rate (76.1 percent).
The odds of Harrison being a productive player were long, which is why the Tigers did not have to spend much to acquire him. It is disappointing that he missed much of the year with an injury, but it is hard to fault Detroit for releasing him in August. Even as bad as the team was last year, the offense was probably better off without him if he wasn’t going to out-produce the younger players behind him.
Harrison will not be returning to Detroit next season, and that will be the best choice for both parties. The Tigers have a few options at second base, including Harold Castro, Niko Goodrum, and Ronny Rodriguez, and there are other choices to hit at the top of the order. Low-risk, one-year deals are not rare for teams like the Tigers, and sometimes this is just how they turn out.