Jeff Luhnow has become pretty well known as a genius, stealing some excellent players off waivers and turning them into valuable assets. And while I think McHugh is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, I think his steal of Will Harris is probably one of the least talked about steals in all of baseball. Especially after a seriously underrated 2018 performance.
November 3rd, 2014, the Astros claimed Will Harris off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Harris had been a below average player for 2 of his previous 3 seasons (based on ERA+), bouncing around between teams on the waiver wire. (Left on waivers by the Rockies, picked up by the A’s, picked up by the Diamondbacks, then finally picked up by the Astros.)
Overall, the reception from CrawfishBoxes was fairly good, especially with some of the other recent successes.
Before we get into why this was such a great pickup, let’s take a look at who Will Harris is.
Who is Will Harris
Harris, 34, is a 6’4 250lb Right Handed reliever, who was drafted in ninth round (258th overall ) in 2006 draft coming from Louisiana State University. Other than a rough 2011 season in A+, Harris dominated the minors with ERA’s of 1.16, 1.32, 2.77, and 2.08. Driving him to be ranked 12th in John Sickel’s 2009 review of the Rockies system. With minimal amounts to say about him, here’s what I found.
12) Will Harris, RHP, Grade C+: Live arm, good track record in A-ball, need to see at higher levels. I like him more than most do.
There was not a lot I could find written about him as he progressed, which makes sense as a lower ranked reliever coming up through the minors.
After an extremely forgettable start to his career with the Rockies (8.15 ERA across 17.2 IP), Harris blossomed into a solid but unspectacular middle-reliever, posting 3.42 ERA across 81.2 IP for the Diamondbacks in 2013-14, which was good for a 113 ERA+, but his 2014 season looked ugly with a 4.34 ERA across 29 IP.
Looking back, Luhnow probably recognized a few items, such as his FIP being at a much nicer 2.91 (and an even better looking 2.53 SIERA), supported by a strong K/9 (10.86 in 2014), with solid control (2.79 BB/9) and his BABIP/LOB showing to be key signs of a player struck by bad luck.
As a free reclamation project, expectations are generally pretty low on the return, what the Astros got was anything but that. Since 2015, Harris has pitched 237 innings of 2.58 ERA baseball (154 ERA+), supported by a solid 2.95 FIP, 9.6 K/9, and even better 2.2 BB/9.
I’d like to stop a second to put that into perspective, since 2015, Will Harris has the 16th lowest ERA of all qualified relievers in baseball, ahead of some insanely recognizable names such as Edwin Diaz, Blake Treinen, Jeurys Familia, Brad Hand, David Robertson, etc. That’s absolutely incredible for any reliever, nevermind a free pickup.
Now ERA is not an all telling stat, and is arguably overstated, as Will Harris’ FIP comes in at a more realistic 2.95, and his WAR comes in at 4.3 over this span. But even that FIP numbers would rank him as the 22nd best reliever in all of baseball. (Still ahead of Blake Treinen, Brad Hand, etc) From a WAR perspective, he ranks 22nd, but some of that is a factor of innings pitched.
Harris utilizes the following 3 pitch arsenal
Cutter – 57.7% Thrown, 92 MPH, 2.525 RPM, 21.9 Whiff% xWOBA .333
Curve – 37.5% Thrown, 82.5 MPH, 2,720 RPM, 48.7 Whiff%, xWOBA .174
4-Seamer- 4.7% Thrown, 92.6 MPH, 2,524 RPM, 23.5 Whiff%, xWOBA .408
#Astros Will Harris 2018 Pitch Quality— MLB Quality of Pitch (@qopbaseball) January 18, 2019
He throw his curveball with high velocity and vertical break
Vertical Break (Top 4% MLB) ❗️
Velocity (Top 8% MLB) ❗️
Horizontal Break (Top 19% MLB)
Low Rise (Top 22% MLB)
Late Break (Bottom 17% MLB)
Location (Bottom 12% MLB) pic.twitter.com/Snorczc3Hz
There are a lot of people who are down on Will Harris based on his 2018. I think what might surprise most people is that Will Harris actually had an excellent (albeit unlucky) 2018.
On the surface, his 5-3, 3.49 ERA (116 ERA+) is not bad, but relatively uninspiring especially when he was fighting for a spot in one of the best bullpens in baseball.
I wrote an article in regards to whether he should be on the playoff roster, which covered a lot of the advanced stats which all supported he actually had a great 2018.
Harris’ 2018 FIP came in at a sparkling 2.44. His K/9 was a crushing 10.16, and he kept walks under control to a rate of 2.22, and his all in contribution came to a 1.2 fWAR, tied for 34th best in all of baseball for 2018, doing that in 56.2 IP with only 4 others above him doing so in less innings.
Half way through the year, Fangraphs listed him as one of the relievers who would matter in the second half with this to say:
““Will Harris would likely elicit a shrug from anyone who peered at his 4.15 ERA. His FIP and xFIP are both sub-3.00, though, and his SIERA is an even tinier 2.40. Including him here might be considered cheating in two ways: he’s appeared in ten games over the last month with an ERA of 2.70, and he’s an Astro.
He was victimized by home runs earlier in the year and has been better at keeping the ball in the park, having allowed only one dinger over the last 30 days. It helps that he’s striking out a career high, too, with a reworked curveball that’s tighter and sharper than ever.”
To receive an All-Star reliever, who has consistently performed as one of the best in the majors for free off the waiver wire, is simply spectacular. It’s a testament to Luhnow that he’s been able to pull off waiver magic tricks multiple times.
It was sad to see numerous people so down on Harris last year, as truthfully, he had a spectacular year riddled with some bad luck. It’s an embarrassment of riches to think that we even had the discussion on if he should make the playoff roster, despite being easily in the conversation for a top 30 reliever in all of baseball over a span of the past 4 years.
I’m excited to have him back in the rotation for a hopefully healthy, dominant year in 2018.
What do you think, is this Luhnow’s most underrated move? If not, which one do you think is?
Is Will Harris Luhnow’s most under-rated acquisition?
This poll is closed