During a season in which the Washington Nationals are struggling to find their footing, dark spots are abound. But there’s some good emanating early on in this season, including Max Scherzer’s dominating intensity on the mound, Trea Turner’s strong continuation of 2020, and Juan Soto’s return to the lineup after being sidelined. There’s also waves being made deeper down in the roster, including Josh Harrison’s offensive production thus far.
Although Harrison has cooled off recently, going 4-for-27 (.148) since May 2, he’s been an intriguing piece of the puzzle since his arrival last season. Harrison, now 33, was coming off a staggeringly bad year in Detroit in 2019, but found success in a Nats uniform. A season ago, Harrison carried a 107 wRC+ over 91 plate appearances.
Now nearly a month-and-a-half into the 2021 season, Harrison’s production has eclipsed his output from the year prior. To this point, the super-utility man has maintained a 128 wRC+ and .819 OPS, in addition to his 0.5 fWAR, which has already surpassed his 2020 total (in a similar number of plate appearances).
The reason for this is perhaps because Harrison is hitting the ball harder than he ever has.
While Harrison’s metrics don’t place him among the top hitters in baseball, he’s managed to outdo past versions of himself.
For example, Harrison’s max exit velocity is nearly three miles per hour faster than his max from 2020; moreover, it’s higher than he’s ever produced. More importantly, his average exit velocity is roughly in-line with or exceeds all past outputs. He’s also finding the sweet spot roughly 40 percent of the time, up from 33.3 percent a year ago, and up from his highest mark of 38.4 percent in 2017 (his second All-Star season). Finally, Harrison’s 11.2 percent strikeout rate is in the top three percent of the league, meaning he’s making contact and putting the ball in play.
Maybe it has something to do with culture or environment, but Harrison seems to be having a lot of fun playing baseball. That became a similar sight from his days in Pittsburgh, but was perhaps less evident during his short stint as a Tiger. Something unlike his days with the Pirates is the stability he’s experiencing. While Harrison made his way into Pirates’ fans hearts with hustle and flexibility in the field, seeing a semblance of stability by knowing which position you’re going to be playing day-in and day-out could help the psyche of a player.
Harrison has appeared in the outfield twice this season, once on May 2 and once on May 5, but he’s spent the rest of his time at second base. While he was getting most of his reps at second base with the Tigers in 2019, he wasn’t getting consistent reps, appearing in only 36 games, with injuries limiting him as they had in 2018.
While the veteran second baseman did bounce around some in his first year with the Nationals, the aforementioned environmental changes could’ve helped his mentality. After all, he was suiting up for the club that just won a World Series, even if they struggled to find their footing in the often strange and tumultuous COVID season.
While the hope is that the primary performers surrounding Harrison will be able to up their game to raise the Nats in the standings, hopefully Harrison continues his energetic style of play and put up the numbers we’ve seen over the first month of the season. At this juncture, any silver lining is one worth holding onto.