It's Monday morning, and the air is thick with love, praise and general adulation for the Metroplex's newest renaissance man, Matt Harrison. If you've carved out any time in the last 18 or so hours for Rangers baseball, (a) you're aware that he made the Red Sox look utterly foolish over seven frames of one-run baseball yesterday (including the allowance of only five hits and two walks against eight strikeouts), and (b) you've probably read something to this effect in a game recap: "If Matt Harrison can keep pitching like this, then the Rangers' rotation will be just fine." One article rendered unreadable by a paywall apparently goes so far as to suggest that Harrison could be this year's C.J. Wilson.
And all the while, my mind is at complete odds with my heart. People like to believe in potential change for the betterment of whatever is a focal point in their lives, be it their family or professional life or, yes, even a key pitcher on their favorite baseball team. They like to believe that what they're seeing is the emergence of something unique or special or, if nothing else, greatly improved relative to its past form, and they like the idea of personally witnessing the dawn of that transformation. And yet, if we know anything about baseball, it's that trying to draw predictive value out of a single game is a horrendous idea. Moreover, Harrison's delivered these intermittently brilliant starts before, and never did it augur well for his success as a starter in the months that followed. What, then, makes this time any different? And isn't it especially dangerous to throw around these kinds of leading if-then statements after exactly one great start?
The short answer is both yes and no, simultaneously. There is every chance that this was, in fact, a very pleasant fluke, and that Harrison's larger body of performance will reflect something more along the lines of a borderline No. 5 starter on a first-division ballclub. Or he could be a few ticks better than that. We don't know the answer, and, frankly, investing much time into trying to find the answer right now is an exercise in futility. To put it all more concisely, I'm hopeful that this was a harbinger of things to come, but because it is only a single, solitary start, I'm not optimistic that it actually is indicative of good things to come. Appreciating Harrison's performance is one thing; trying to extrapolate something bigger from that performance, however, is a much dicier proposition.
There are, however, things I really liked seeing, both in Harrison's underlying process on the mound and the results -- the paucity of well-struck balls was noticeable, as was the fact that he was putting a healthy number of pitches right on Mike Napoli's mitt. He attacked the inside part of the plate more often than I can remember him doing during his past swims through the rotation, which could be -- but isn't necessarily -- a function of the bolstered confidence that both he and the Rangers are spending so much time talking about right now.
But perhaps most significantly, Harrison parked his fastball around 92-93 mph for the better part of the afternoon (and, in fact, maxed out in the 97-98 mph range, which is the best he's ever flashed at the major league level period), whereas the norm for his velocity as a starter over the last several seasons has been more in the vicinity of 90-91 mph. Since fastball velocity does correlate meaningfully with run prevention, I'll be interested to see if he can sustain this beyond yesterday and well into the first few months of the season; if his refined mechanics are primarily responsible for the velocity shift, then we may actually be looking at a case where the first impression accurately reflects what's forthcoming. Unfortunately, I'll be damned if I didn't just use 'if' twice in that last sentence. See how easy that was?
I guess the one key takeaway from yesterday's festivities was that Matt Harrison actually looked and acted and performed like a big league pitcher who believed in himself and trusted in his stuff, instead of the unconfident nibbler lacking in killer instinct that has been disturbingly commonplace over the last several years. I want to believe, and I'm certainly prepared to believe ... but for all the reasons I stated above, I'm not ready to believe. Not yet. And hopefully you won't begrudge that position.