So, the Rangers boast the best record (6-2) in the American League. They boast the best run differential (35 runs scored to 19 runs allowed) of any team in baseball. They boast the largest divisional lead (two games) of any team in baseball, and undoubtedly have the last-place Angels -- who were yet again hyped as possibly being the best team in baseball by ESPN.com's Buster Olney one week ago today, and now trail Texas by 3.5 games -- blinking rapidly and swallowing hard as they try to get their feet back underneath them before they corkscrew themselves into a six- or seven-game hole. The Rangers effectively are who we thought they were, and they're not letting much of anyone off the hook.
That's all very laudable and noteworthy, but it's also sort of boring and generalized and lacking in nuance, so let's shift the conversation back over towards Matt Harrison, who spun eight frames of one-run baseball last night in Minnesota, and did so while inducing a career-best 18-to-4 ground-to-fly ball ratio. That's 31 ground balls against seven fly balls against six line drives in his first two starts, which is also a career best (assuming, of course, that you prefer grounders to fly balls, and fly balls to liners), and a continuation of this expectation-shattering bent that he's been on for more than a year now. *
[* Something that I wanted to go ahead and point out that neatly ties into this theme of Harrison going above and beyond: at the outset of last July, I rifled through the peripheral indicators, and suggested that his rest-of-season ERA would "balloon" into the low-4.00s, which was quite a bit higher than the low-3.00s ERA he was rocking up to that point but not nearly as high as the high-4.00s to low-5.00s ERAs that the projection systems were spitting out. So what does Harrison go and do? He amasses three strikeouts for every one walk the rest of the way, and throws down a 3.50 ERA over the second half of the regular season as Texas runs away with the division title. Make of that what you will.]
Now, obviously, you're not going to coax that sort of ground-beating contact on a consistent basis if you're not hammering the bottom of the strike zone ... but then I got to thinking about the visual distinction between Harrison's pitch locations over his first two starts of this season and the totality of his 2011 season, and so here is a glimpse at last season's heat maps (all graphics courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information):
And now, this season's heat maps, which do only capture a small fraction of pitches relative to the graphics above, but also convey some interesting information about his approach thus far:
The especially interesting thing here is, I think, the shift in Harrison's approach versus left-handed batters, who have two base hits and no walks to show for their efforts in 21 plate appearances against Harrison this season, and who have been suffocated to the tune of a 15-to-0 ground-to-fly ball ratio. One of the legitimate knocks on Harrison even during an otherwise excellent 2011 season was his lackluster showing against same-handed opponents, who were beaten down at a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk clip but still managed to hit him to the tune of .275/.318/.411.
The Matt Harrison of 2012, however, is heavily curtailing those hittable pitches out over the plate against lefties, and is now fearlessly attacking lefties down and in, with the desirability of the results being evident in light of the quality of this defensive infield.
So, yeah, Harrison's good. We knew that. Colby Lewis looks excellent right now, and isn't giving us any cause to believe that the disintegration of his hip is imminent. Derek Holland looks like he's going to make the Rangers very happy that they extended his club control to the extent that they did. Neftali Feliz looks like he's been doing this his whole life. And Yu Darvish ... gets another crack at it today.