Matt Harrison: Worth Considering


Matt Harrison is no secret to Rangers’ fans. Only the rest of the league.

Last night against the Twins he tossed another gem, going 8 innings while allowing only one run on seven hits. He struck out four and walked two. He worked out of a couple jams and threw his fastball with staunch consistency for the second straight time out, limiting Minnesota to a ton of weak groundouts and pop ups. In 14 innings this season Matt Harrison has allowed 11 hits, walked 4 and struck out 7. Most importantly, one run. Total.

Like Colby Lewis and Derek Holland before him, he’s produced a quality start in each of his first two times on the bump. He’s won both starts. Discarding Neftali Feliz’s masterpiece against the Mariners earlier in the week, Matt Harrison has delivered the Rangers’ two most well-pitched starts of the season.

Yes, we’re an entire eight games in.

The reason Matt Harrison is worth writing about is because, well, no one really ever gives him his due. For one, he’s in a rotation with Yu Darvish, who would own the headlines on any team he played for. Plus there’s Derek Holland, who is younger (25) and also left-handed, and fresh off a 5-year/$28.5M extension. Rounding out the rotation is the young and freshly-minted starter Neftali Feliz, and elder statesman and playoff horse Colby Lewis. So yeah, I can see how he’s kind of the forgotten man.

And yet, for some strange reason, he’s probably the starting pitcher I had the least amount of question marks for heading into the season. With Colby Lewis there’s the hip issue; with Holland there’s the consistency problem; with Darvish we need to see him prove it — the same with Neftali Feliz.

Essentially Matt Harrison’s role in the rotation is to be like a good umpire behind the plate calling balls and strikes: If no one is mentioning him, he’s doing a good job. But what is it about Matt Harrison that so easily gets lost in the shuffle? Why — when we talk about how the Rangers are going to succeed in the future — isn’t Harrison mentioned along the same lines as some of the other pitchers in the starting rotation, notably Derek Holland?

First, let’s take a look at what we know.

Matt Harrison will be arbitration-eligible the next two offseasons, at which points he will see successive pay raises of a fairly substantial sum. He’s currently making $2.95M this year.

– The Rangers have two-fifths of their starting rotation locked up through 2016 in Darvish and Holland, with Darvish signed for 2017, also. (Derek Holland also has an option that year, which Texas will almost surely pick up.) Colby Lewis will be a free agent after this season, and at the same time Neftali Feliz will begin his arbitration years. Feliz won’t be a free agent until 2015, though.

– Currently the Rangers possess one of the most fertile pipelines of prospects in all of Major League baseball. Their AAA affiliate boasts #1 pitching prospect Martin Perez, who figures to be ready at some point during 2012, and Neil Ramirez who was on the doorstep of a spot start as early as the end of last season. Combined with Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Martin Perez, Neil Ramirez, and the bundles of other high-ceiling arms in the minor league system, the Rangers have to be looking at Harrison as one of many options. Because like anything else, baseball is a business.

Two years ago Matt Harrison was a pitcher I held my breath over every time he was inserted into a ball game. Last year he started looking like the pitcher the Rangers believed they were receiving in the Mark Teixeira trade of 2007. We can’t forget, aside from Jarrod Saltalamacchia (and maybe Elvis Andrus), Matt Harrison was seen as the coveted prospect in that deal. This year he’s been the model of consistency.

I don’t know if this is the peak of what we are all supposed to expect from Matt Harrison, or if he will bridge the gap from solid number three starter to top-of-the-rotation work horse, but it’s a safe assumption that he repeats his 2011 success in which he produced 4.0 WAR, with the strong chance he eclipses those totals.

So while we all wait for the ace-like stuff to start manifesting from Yu Darvish, and while we gaze into the television screen for the poetic motion Derek Holland goes through before pumping in a 95mph fastball on the inside corner to a righty, let’s appreciate the pitcher who simply continues to generate results.