Bob Smizik: The immense value of Harrison

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If National League Most Valuable Player balloting were held today, it would be interesting to see how the Pirates’ Josh Harrison would fare. The word of Harrison’s stellar season hasn’t fully made it to the general public, but surely the men and women charged with doing the voting are aware of his truly remarkable performance and the impact it has on the Pirates’ success.

They probably know Harrison has done it starting at four different positions -- 23 times in right field, 18 in left, 13 at third base, 13 at second. Last night, in the Pirates’ 8-3 win over Arizona, he was scheduled to start in left, but when Neil Walker was a late scratch with a tight back, he moved to second. Not a problem!

Harrison is coming too much from nowhere to win the MVP award. He certainly would be on many, if not all, the 10-player ballots. What would be particularly interesting would be to see how he'd fare against teammate and reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen.

Harrison is on another otherworldly tear, which included a single, double and home run last night. In his past seven games, he is 14-for-31 (.452) with five home runs. He has a 1.129 slugging percentage.

For the season, he is batting .303 with an .840 OPS, both second on the team to McCutchen. He’s also second in slugging (.498). His 13 stolen bases rank him only behind McCutchen and Starling Marte.

How much all of this affects the MVP race is to be determined. There is still almost two months remaining in the season and anything can happen.

Harrison also is making millions for himself. Had his season played out on its expected course, he either would be up for a light raise, probably to less than $1 million, or face non-tendering. As of now, his salary probably would be upward of $2.5 million and could grow higher.

His value to the Pirates is even higher today as the season of third baseman Pedro Alvarez continues to unravel. Alvarez not only made another throwing error Saturday night, sailing the ball over the head of first baseman Ike Davis, but he also bounced two throws to first. Davis made the pickup on those.

After Alvarez batted in the sixth, manager Clint Hurdle indicated how concerned he is with Alvarez's defense by replacing him with Brent Morel in a 1-1 game.

With Marte expected off the disabled list this week, Harrison will no longer be needed regularly in the outfield and should take over third base on a full-time basis. The Pirates can’t forget about Alvarez, the National League home run champion, but his throwing issues -- and there’s no end in sight for that -- virtually rule him out of the lineup when the Pirates are at full strength.

There’s no doubt about it: Harrison is the Pirates’ best third baseman. He also might be their best left fielder and their best right fielder.

MPV indeed!

* * *

* As they did the night before, the Pirates broke up a tie game in the eighth inning and went on to an easy win. Saturday night they scored four in the eighth and three in the ninth. Vance Worley solidified his spot in the starting rotation with another good performance -- six innings, one run, seven hits, one walks. Jared Hughes got the win in relief.

* McCutchen was hit in the back in the ninth inning by Arizona pitcher Randall Delgado. McCutchen was in obvious pain -- although not seriously injured -- and was more obviously angered by the Arizona tactic. It appeared to be in clear retaliation of Pirates reliever Ernesto Frieri hitting Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona’s best player, the night before and resulting in a broken hand. Delgado was ejected. It will be interesting to see if MLB takes any action against Arizona manager Kirk Gibson

* The comeback of Frieri continues to wobble. He gave up a two-run homer to David Peralta in the ninth inning. ... Russell Martin had two hits and drove in two runs and actually has a higher on-base percentage than McCutchen, .411 to .410. Martin is second in the league. ... The Pirates are third in the National League in runs, first in on-base percentage and third in OPS.

First Published August 3, 2014 12:00 AM

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