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Stats Corner: Pirates' Harrison making history as a utility player

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By David Golebiewski
Saturday, July 19, 2014, 9:10 p.m.
 

Josh Harrison shuttled between Triple-A and Pittsburgh last season, serving as a late-inning defensive replacement and striking out five times as often as he walked. Harrison still does not have a set position, but manager Clint Hurdle is penciling him into the lineup almost daily because of the newly minted All-Star's defensive versatility and drastically improved bat. Few players in history have manned so many positions while manhandling pitchers.

Entering 2014, Harrison's career park-and-league adjusted on-base percentage (OPS+) was 20 percent below the MLB average. But his OPS is 19 percent above average this year, trailing only Andrew McCutchen (177 OPS+), Russell Martin (126) and Neil Walker (122) among Pirates hitters. Harrison has accomplished that while playing 10-plus games at right field, third base, left field and second base. Only three players in big league history have posted a better OPS+ playing double-digit games at those positions.

Player Year OPS+

Russ Wrightstone 1925 139

Frank Catalanotto 2001 128

Tony Phillips 1991 122

Josh Harrison 2014 119

Tony Phillips 1992 119

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Harrison's showing serious range at those spots, too, saving a combined 4.2 runs compared to an average player according to Fangraphs' ultimate zone rating. He is driving in more runs by drilling fastballs. Harrison has been -0.4 runs below average per 100 fastballs seen during his career, but he is at 1.55 runs above average this year.

Harrison joins a proud Pirates tradition of multiposition offensive threats. Honus Wagner is the ultimate Swiss Army Knife slugger, posting a 162 OPS+ in 1902 while appearing in 10-plus games at shortstop, first base and all three outfield spots. Craig Wilson (146 OPS+ in 2001 as a catcher, first baseman and right fielder), Bill Robinson (143 OPS+ in 1976 at third base and corner outfield spots) and Freddy Sanchez (119 OPS+ in 2006 at shortstop, second and third base) also brought their bats — and many different gloves — to the ballpark.

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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