When discussion turns to the best starting pitchers in the American League, it's a good bet that you'll be there a while before Matt Harrison's name comes up.
That's unfortunate since Harrison ranks eighth in the league in Baseball Prospectus' Wins Above Replacement metric over the last two seasons, a slot that merits a bigger place in the conversation. The reason why Harrison has been overlooked was on display against the Mariners on Sunday.
Harrison pitched a nine-inning shutout in which he was rarely threatened, but it never really felt like he was dominating the Mariners. He walked four hitters and struck out three, results that don't normally lend themselves to complete game shutouts. That's been Harrison's mode of operation all season, as evidenced by his unimpressive strikeout-to-walk ratio and mediocre strikeout rates.
In short, Harrison doesn't look like one of the best starting pitchers in the American League until you look at the scoreboard and see the Rangers ahead of a team that hasn't put up crooked numbers. We think of dominant pitchers snarling on the mound and piling up strikeouts that make it impossible to stop watching them. Guys who nibble around and allow baserunners don't encourage the same kind of devotion.
Again, that's unfortunate. Harrison's method might not be the one you'd most like to watch for nine innings, but there's no extra credit for looking good. The result is what matters and Harrison's results have been pretty close to impeccable since the start of last season.
The big fear is that this will catch up with Harrison at some point because pitchers with his walk and strikeout rates usually aren't as successful as Harrison. The Rangers' decison not to buy out his arbitration years in a long-term contract adds to the suspicion that Harrison might have a reckoning around the corner.
Maybe so, but there aren't any red flags in sight right now. Harrison's mojo is working and the doubts get harder to conjure up every time he puts up another gem.