Nationals Sign Will Harris: Here's why it's a terrible move.
Last week, a trendsetting deal in major league baseball free agency was made. Will Harris just signed a 3 year 24 million dollar deal to help shore up the Washington National's bullpen. Ironically, he leaves the Houston Astros, who lost in the world series to the Nats. He pitched in 5 games in the series, giving up one run apiece in games 6 and 7.
Harris has been a solid relief pitcher for years. He had a fantastic 2019, making him a target for a lot of teams in free agency. Certainly, the Cubs could have used him. The Nationals had a lot of issues with their bullpen, so ideally this move will impact their chances in a big way. Here's a look at Harris's stats via baseball reference:
So why the "terrible move" headline? Harris is 35, and will turn 36 in August. He signed a 3 year deal, which will end once he's 37. His 8 million AAV ranks 26th among all RPs in all of the MLB. Harris is too old for a 3 year deal. If he's the same pitcher he was in 2019, he's worth it. For 2020, he may still be a decent pitcher. But beyond that, I have doubts for a 2 pitch RP of that age. Allow me to explain:
Harris is a contact manager. He averages 9.58 strikeouts per 9, a respectable number. It's decreased 3 years running, and last year was 9.3. As he ages into his late 30s, I'd expect that to keep dipping.
LOB%: Harris left a ton of runners stranded in 2019 a fantastic career high of 88.2%. His career mark is 78.1% That career high won't happen again.
BABIP: Will Harris's career BABIP allowed: .282/ 2019: .245/ First Half 2019: .269 /Second Half .204
That number will not be repeated again. That alone indicates that he is due for sharp regression, particularly as a contact manager.
Hard Hit %: For his career, Will Harris allows 30.7% hard hit balls. It spiked to a career worst 41.2% in 2019. Not a great trend, especially for someone who's success was built off a low BABIP. If batters are squaring up the ball more, a lot of these 2019 outs are going to be 2020 hits.
Harris throws 2 pitches: a 92 MPH cutter and a 83 MPH curve. In 2019, his cutter averaged 91 and the curve 81, a slight drop. It makes sense as he ages. He's never been an elite velocity guy, which makes sense given his reputation as a contact manager. If you look at his brooks baseball pitch tracker, his horizontal movement has increased the last few years, while vertical has decreased, both consistently. If movement regresses, the impact on his performance could be catastrophic. Is that performance something he can keep doing as he gets older and as the velocity declines? I doubt it.
Right now, Harris is projected to put up a 3.70 ERA, 3.67 FIP in 60 innings. Both Depth Charts and Steamer are projecting a BABIP over .300, which makes sense given the increasing hard hit percentage. I think he'll be reasonable enough for 2020. I could see him being out of baseball by the end of his contract. Not unlike Steve Cishek and Pedro Strop in 2019, I'm expecting regression to hit Will Harris hard. Factor in the fat multiyear deal, and I'm confident in saying that the Nationals will regret this deal.
Bringing it back to the Cubs, if this is the going rate for RPs in this offseason, I'm fine with the front office biding some time and making some bargain basement moves. A decent but older RP costing 8 million over 3 years is a bit much, especially for a team in a budget crunch trying to stay out of the tax bracket. I'd rather see them find some diamonds in the rough than overpay someone who will not duplicate their performance. While Harris was 2nd among FA RPs in WAR, there are plenty of warning signs for his performance going forward.