Is Josh Harrison a clear upgrade for the LA Angels?
By Ryan Falla
The LA Angels have been linked to nearly every free agent out there this season, even if they haven’t nabbed every guy on their list. Patrick Corbin, Nathan Eovaldi, Wilson Ramos; it seems like everyone is on their list this year.
The latest free agent to pop up on the LA Angels radar is former Pirates second baseman and current free agent Josh Harrison. It’s no secret the Angels are looking at a second base upgrade after going through the entire 2018 season without any set starter. Ian Kinsler was generally awful and unreliable, but some hope did shine as Angels prospect David Fletcher showed off serious skill at second base in his rookie season.
Despite the impressive rookie performance from David Fletcher the Angels are feeling like they need a more known commodity going into 2019. Former Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison seems to fit those standards at first glance, he’s spent a total of eight seasons manning second base (3064 innings) while maintaining a .985 fielding percentage.
However, despite the positive Defensive Runs Saved peripherals throughout his career 2018 saw Harrison’s defensive performance from 2B worth negative runs, so while the Angels do need a clear upgrade at 2B it gets a little muddy when you consider Harrison’s actual defensive value. It does need to be noted that while his defense has been good throughout his career he is going to be entering his age 31 season after falling flat in his last season.
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On top of that his hitting hasn’t been the best either. In 374 plate appearances across 2018 Harrison posted a sub .300 OBP (.293) while posting low level stats such as his .250 average, his base running decline of 12 SB (2017) to 3 SB (2018), as well his 3rd lowest doubles total (13). All around it seems that Josh Harrison is doing everything that the Angels want but at a mediocre clip, so is he really a clear upgrade?
It’s hard to say so when rookie David Fletcher had such a fine rookie campaign. While Josh Harrison had 727.1 innings played at 2B in 2018 David Fletcher logged only 361 innings. However, Fletcher did make the most of it by showing off a glove valued at five Defensive Runs Saved compared to Harrison’s negative 2. Overall Fletcher was clearly the better performer defensively and that’s still including a ton of room for growth. With Josh Harrison there isn’t as much potential for great defense as there is with Fletcher, and there definitely isn’t room for growth.
Furthermore, Fletcher posted a slash line of .275/.316/.363, which isn’t an eye-popping slash-line, but is still quantifiably better than what Harrison can bring to the table. It shouldn’t be forgotten how clutch Fletcher was in key situations, the young hitter posting slash lines such as .300/.344/.467 with 2 outs and RISP. There’s not only more value to be had with Fletcher in the current, there’s a greater potential to be offered in the long run.
It isn’t wild to think Fletcher can replicate, if not surpass, his 2018 season. However, Josh Harrison would have to have an improved season to match the defensive value Fletcher brought to the team. Even offensively he would have to improve and that’s still given Fletcher’s halfway decent slash line. Overall Josh Harrison does not look to be a clear-cut improvement over Fletcher and shouldn’t be something the Angels seriously pursue as an upgrade over him.
This franchise needs to be past the point of playing serviceable veterans over their own kids who have the potential to be so much more than serviceable. In fact Fletcher was already more than decent in his 2018 season and has the potential to bring back the days of David Eckstein roaming the infield. Sure the Angels can sign someone they know will be mediocre, but what’s the point in that? Even with the logic that Josh Harrison would provide depth in the roster all it would really do is take away much needed MLB reps from David Fletcher should Harrison start over him.
If the Angels bring Josh Harrison along as someone that can complement Fletcher that would be a perfect scenario. But any scenario that sees Fletcher losing significant playing for Harrison should be avoided at all costs. The Angels haven’t been the smartest organization in a while and they haven’t done much to show that they will play the deserving rookies over the mediocre veterans, but if the game plan is to use Harrison as an offset to Fletcher they should go all in.
If the Angels think that they’d be better off with Harrison manning the majority of second base duties they might be in for another ugly season and another wasted season from a promising young rookie. It always comes down to how the players are used, and in this case if new manager Brad Ausmus can use guys like Harrison smartly alongside Fletcher without sacrificing serious playing time for the rookie we just might see the Angels head into a brighter direction.