The Curious Case of Extending Matt Harrison


On March 20, 2012, the Rangers and Derek Holland agreed to a 5-year extension worth $26 million. The deal included two options that could potentially take the contract into the range of $45 million. At that time, Derek Holland was coming off of his best season to date, posting career bests in IP (198.0), xFIP (3.76) and WAR (3.8). Holland was also freshly off of a triumphant performance in the 2011 World Series, which saw him pitch 8 1/3 IP of 2-hit, shutout ball against the Cardinals.

Sep 27, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison (54) pitches in the fifth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Rangers Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Why is this important? Well, it gives us insight into how the Rangers may approach extending Matt Harrison.

Unlike Holland, Harrison is more of a groundball pitcher, which bodes well for him pitching the majority of his games in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Although Holland does rack up more strikeouts, which leads to this area of concern for Harrison:

In 2011, Harrison posted an ERA of 3.39, and in 2012, and ERA of 3.29. Compare that to Harrison’s 2011 SIERA of 4.09, and in 2012, a SIERA of 4.27. This disparity is because SIERA is a defense independent metric. Matt Harrison has high GB rates and pitches in front of a very strong infield defense. If for example Harrison pitched for a team with a league average infield defense, his ERA would correlate more to his SIERA. Harrison has now posted two consecutive seasons with very strong HR/FB rates. Why this may raise somewhat of a red flag is simple: When comparing Harrison’s HR/FB rates to those of other pitchers in his class, generally, the pitchers in his company have higher K/9 rates. This anomaly could be part in due to luck. But this remains to be seen, as there still needs to be a larger sample size.

To put it simply, Matt Harrison has outperformed his peripherals. This could be sustainable, or it could be unsustainable. This remains to be seen. But this disparity does raise some caution. Not with an actual extension, but the value of Harrison’s rumored contract.

August 29, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers starting pitcher Matt Harrison, left, is met on the mound by catcher Luis Martinez (15) and pitching coach Mike Maddux, right, in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

If the Rangers and Matt Harrison agree on an extension, it should exceed that of Derek Holland’s. I would expect something along the lines of 5-years, $45 million, with similar options to those seen in Holland’s contract, which could raise the extension to the $60 million range.

Matt Harrison is a durable LHP who relies on control, not swing-and-miss stuff, to induce groundballs. Going forward, there are no reasons to expect dramatic regression, as long as Harrison can reasonably sustain his HR/FB rate.

There is certain motivation for the Rangers to pursue an extension with Matt Harrison, especially after considering the price of pitching on the free agent market. And if an extension is ever agreed upon in the foreseeable future, it is hard to envision the extension being anything other than a win for the Rangers.