Note: the Tigers have not officially announced the move yet, but with Ron Gardenhire offering up quotes on Josh Harrison this week, we figured it was time to start dissecting his addition.
The one thing that the Detroit Tigers were really lacking at the start of spring training was depth and experience up the middle, and in the lineup overall. General manager Al Avila shored up that deficit on Wednesday by signing 31-year-old infielder Josh Harrison. Harrison is a versatile player who at one point finished ninth in the NL MVP voting back in 2014. Up to this point, he has spent the entirety of his eight year major league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he’s someone you will notice from the get-go in a Tigers uniform.
While Harrison isn’t a typical offensive-heavy guy, and doesn’t leave the park that often, he reaches base at a good pace, with a .317 career on-base percentage. He can find the gaps to go extra bases as well, boasting a .408 career slugging percentage. Because of that, Harrison is a great addition for the Tigers. He checks all the boxes for a cheap veteran signing.
An important aspect to a guy like Harrison is that he can play multiple positions, including second base, third base, and the outfield. He has even played a little bit at shortstop too. He split all of the 2018 season between second and third base; we imagine he will play most of his games at second this year. He did play in the outfield as recently as 2017, and logged over 700 career innings in the outfield for the Pirates. He might even get a few reps out there as a late-game replacement or injury fill-in. I don’t think we will see Harrison at shortstop much, if at all, given he only has roughly 200 career innings there, and none since 2014.
Although he is not well known for his defense, he has been well above average in the field. In 2017, he was worth 3.8 dWAR between second, third, and the corner outfielder positions. He has been worth +20 defensive runs saved (DRS) in his career at second. He took a step back last year, at -2 DRS and -0.8 dWAR. But in 2017, his second All-Star season, he was tied with Ian Kinsler for second in defensive runs saved at second base, with +6. Although 2018 was a regression, we are not too far off from some of his best production.
While this is hard to quantify, Harrison, by all accounts, is also a great clubhouse guy. He brings a ton of energy and enthusiasm to the diamond, which is very noticeable if you have seen any of his games with the Pirates.
But don’t take my word for it, listen to new shortstop Jordy Mercer, who was teammates with Harrison for eight years in Pittsburgh. Mercer was “excited” to have Harrison joining the team, according to Evan Woodbery of MLive.
Jordy Mercer talked to Josh Harrison yesterday, said he's "fired up" to join Tigers.— Evan Woodbery (@evanwoodbery) February 21, 2019
"Pittsburgh knows what he's all about. Other people in this clubhouse have played against him, but for them to see the type of person he is will be really cool. "
Ron Gardenhire is also happy about the signing, as he told the Detroit News’ Chris McCosky.
“He’s a good get for us,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s a positive person, a leader who has proven himself at this level. He’s another guy who can help improve our situation this year, and maybe beyond.“He helps us not only as a player on the field, but he’s a teacher. If we’re going to have some young players on the field, he can help them, too.”
Though this signing dampens the hype around a full-time position at second base for Niko Goodrum given the breakout he had in 2018. But rest assured, Goodrum will still get his reps in. Like Harrison, Goodrum can play all over the field, giving the Tigers a number of possible lineups to toy with throughout the season.
This is without a doubt my favorite aspect to the Harrison signing; it sets the Tigers up with a lot of flexibility between the middle infield and outfield positions. Given how many young players are breaking into the 25-man roster, the Tigers have a lot of different options available. They aren’t locked into any set lineup, and can shift spots around to give them the best possible matchups — or work around any other issues a team goes through during the year. Although the Tigers aren’t projected to make a postseason run this year, Gardenhire has enough flexibility on his roster to make strategizing difficult for the opposition.
I don’t expect Harrison to light the world on fire, but he should look similar to what we saw at the tail end of Ian Kinsler’s stint with the Tigers. Harrison will provide solid and reliable defense, and will have a decent impact at the plate. Avila hit the nail on the head with this signing, it seems. He has displayed a knack for filling in the gaps on the roster, helping to ensure the Tigers have a productive veteran presence on their roster. And while they are projected to finish in last place, Harrison is a legitimate upgrade for their everyday lineup.