I had noble intentions of talking at length about each of this past weekend's games individually, but that sort of fell by the wayside ... and so, you get this post instead:
● Since the beginning of the 2011 season, Matt Harrison has logged 308 regular-season innings over 49 games (48 of those being starts), and has amassed 7.6 wins above replacement on the Baseball Reference WAR scale, and 7.1 wins above replacement on the FanGraphs WAR scale -- figures which rank eighth and 14th among all starting pitchers in those two metrics, respectively. If you want to make the serious argument that he has performed like a legitimate No. 2 starter who has passingly flirted with No. 1 status, you can do it on that basis.
And after yesterday afternoon's series-clinching shutout at Safeco Field, Harrison boasts an impressive 2.87 ERA and 3.50 FIP over his 122.1 innings this season, and, regardless of which flavor of the WAR metric you prefer, one of the best 2012 campaigns of any starting pitcher in baseball.
So why doesn't it feel like that has actually been the case?
I think that there are a couple of major reasons why we don't look at Harrison and believe that he has really been all that great -- first, and probably foremost, you have the lackluster strikeout rates (6.1 K/9 in 2011, 5.4 K/9 in 2012), which aggressively fuel the perception that he's getting worse results than he should be getting in light of the quality of his stuff. I also think that his post-season struggles last year discouraged some of the burgeoning thought that he might be an upper-tier pitcher, seeing as how he floundered against the best of the best in some of the biggest games in this franchise's history; that sort of thing has a way of sticking in your longer-term consciousness.
And then there's also the matter of Harrison really not conjuring up an image of dominance even when he's in the process of blanking the opposing team; yesterday, in fact, marked just the sixth occasion in the last 15 years where a starting pitcher threw a nine-inning shutout while yielding four or more walks and punching out three or fewer batters (that table is embedded below for your perusal), and I think yesterday, on the whole, was the archetypical Matt Harrison start, at least in the sense that the sum was once again greater than its individual parts:
|Matt Harrison||2012-07-15||TEX||SEA||W 4-0||9.0||5||0||0||4||3||0||114||72||76|
|Derek Lowe||2012-05-15||CLE||MIN||W 5-0||9.0||6||0||0||4||0||0||127||76||71|
|Francisco Liriano||2011-05-03||MIN||CHW||W 1-0||9.0||0||0||0||6||2||0||123||66||83|
|Trevor Cahill||2010-08-02||OAK||KCR||W 6-0||9.0||3||0||0||4||3||0||109||62||80|
|Roberto Hernandez||2008-05-12 (1)||CLE||TOR||W 3-0||9.0||5||0||0||4||3||0||108||69||76|
|Steve Trachsel||2003-06-15||NYM||ANA||W 8-0||9.0||1||0||0||4||1||0||119||69||82|
If Harrison can keep doing what he's been doing and keep the steady stream of ground balls flowing to his elite defensive infield and keep his walk/homer totals depressed and keep inducing weak contact (per ESPN Stats & Info, Harrison's "well-hit ball" average has ranked among the lowest of all qualifying starting pitchers over the last couple of years), there isn't a clear and apparent reason why he can't continue what he's doing, or why he can't continue to produce like a legitimate front-line starter. The problem is that I'm just not sure how realistic it is to believe that he can keep doing all of these things at such a high level into perpetuity ... and that, I think, is a big part of what makes Harrison such an interesting study, and such an interesting pitcher to watch going forward.
● In other news from this past weekend, Derek Holland pitched very well in his second start back from his virus-induced DL stint (7.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 4 K, 2 BB), and Yu Darvish was thoroughly beaten by the Mariners for a third time this year (6.1 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 4 K, 4 BB), which elicited a vaguely frustrated-sounding quote from Ron Washington after the beatdown had concluded:
"His command was not good," Washington said of Darvish. "It's all about going out there and letting people on base for free. He has to throw it down the middle and let it go and quit trying to hit the corners."
Darvish, meanwhile, asserted that he wasn't derailed by rust coming off the extended break, and made it sound more like a matter of him simply not being able to find the zone than him trying (and failing) to pinpoint his stuff on the corners as Washington suggests, so I'm not sure if there's just a difference of opinion going on there or what.
● Dating back to the first day of July, the Rangers have scored four or fewer runs in each of their last 10 games, and that represents the longest such streak for the franchise since June 1999; with one more showing of four or fewer runs, the Rangers will be mired in their longest such streak since April 1988. It's the sort of streak that elicits undue calls for the batting coach's head and unnecessarily harsh criticisms of the lineup itself, despite the reality that, for the entire season, the Rangers' offense ranks among the best in baseball, and has produced more runs than any other team in baseball this season.
With all of that in mind, though, yes, again, the offense has struggled mightily this month -- and while there are a few different culprits responsible for that, one of the most alarming problems right now is Josh Hamilton, who went 1-for-10 with six strikeouts over the weekend, and, in addition to seeing his season OPS dip below 1.000 for the first time since April 13th, is now right on the verge of seeing his batting average dip below .300 for the first time all year. I'm going to take a bit of a closer look at this in the next day or two in a separate post, but to make a long story short, pitchers are delivering more pitches in the zone to Hamilton right now than they have all year -- and he's just not doing anything with them. At all. He's in a real, real bad way right now.
● Matt Harrison's last major scare yesterday transpired in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Michael Saunders and Chone Figgins eked out a single and a walk, respectively, and a 5-4-3 double play was required to close out the frame with no damage on the scoreboard. Michael Young somewhat redeemed his frustrating defensive weekend with a nice pick at first base on the back end of the play, but the aspect of this play that has captured the bulk of the public's attention was Ian Kinsler's turn at second base:
Now, of course, there isn't always a single, straightforward, explanation behind something like this, and I don't think there was any true malicious intent involved here, but it's hard to watch this .gif repeatedly and not arrive at the conclusion that Chone Figgins purposely goes out of his way -- in a literal sense, even, as he deviates from his path towards the base and lunges sharply to his left -- to grab Ian Kinsler's leg and trip him up as he delivers ball towards first base. I'm not certain, but I would certainly like to think that this is an illegal take-out slide, and that the second-base umpire would have ruled an extra out on the play if, say, Kinsler's throw had sailed away from and beyond the effective range of Young's glove. Just a really, really strange play.
And, yeah, if you assume that it was an intentional grab and that it wasn't a function of Figgins' equilibrium suddenly and dramatically abandoning him, it's a legitimately cheap play at best, and a legitimately dangerous play at worst. I'll be interested to see if anything comes of that at a future date ...