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Is KJ Harrison Actually the New Michael Conforto?

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The hype has been swirling around KJ Harrison since his fantastic start to the year, often garnering comparisons to past Beaver great Michael Conforto, but how close are they really?

Andy Wooldridge

When Michael Conforto departed for greener pastures and larger stadiums it left a gigantic hole in the Beaver offense, as he was the best hitter in the lineup for three years. It was just assumed that it would take an improvement across the board. Enter KJ Harrison. The freshman came in and turned heads in Surprise, Arizona. He was mashing and had several home runs in the first handful of games.

There were some rumbles about Harrison being the next Conforto, comparing his stature, his build, even his swing. That seemed like a lot of hyperbole as Conforto was most recently the Pac-12 player of the year and a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award. As the season continues Harrison has settled in as perhaps the most dangerous hitter in the Oregon State lineup (either him or Jeff Hendrix).

He has become one of the stars of this team and perhaps it is time to actually discuss Harrison in the same plane as ole Mike. Here are the overall stats of both players (Conforto from his freshman campaign) with Harrison's stats projected to Conforto's number of at bats.

Avg AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB Slg% BB HBP K GDP OBP% SF SH
KJ Harrison 0.345 142 28 49 10 3 7 39 86 0.606 19 5 33 3 0.432 3 0
Michael Conforto 0.349 218 45 76 14 1 13 76 131 0.601 24 12 37 5 0.438 2 2
Projected KJ 40 69 14 4 10 55 121 27 7 47 4 4 0

Overall Raw Stats

These don't mean too much but it is interesting to see where some of the differences are. KJ is on pace to have a more strikeouts and will be short ~19 RBIs, although it is hard to blame all that on Harrison when the Oregon State offense as a whole has not been great this year. Really these show how great of a year Conforto had as a freshman. Harrison is having a great year and even yet Conforto is still likely to have an advantage, truly cementing Conforto as a great in the orange and black.

Here are some more relevant stats to use though:

PA K% BB% BABIP Avg OBP% Slg%
KJ Harrison 166 19.9 11.4 0.400 0.345 0.432 0.606
Michael Conforto 254 14.6 9.4 0.371 0.349 0.438 0.601

Overall Metrics

These numbers are shockingly close. The batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage are all within .006 of each other. This campaign led Conforto to be the Pac-12 freshman of the year and Harrison is putting up similar numbers right now. His batting average on balls in play is an absurd 0.400, where an average hitter is at .300. When Harrison makes contact he gets the job done. His K% and BB% are acceptable despite being behind Conforto, whose numbers are great in that respect.

That is against overall competition however and KJ has been struggling a bit as of late. Here are the numbers in conference play:

Avg AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB Slg% BB HBP K GDP OBP% SF SH
KJ Harrison 0.236 55 6 13 2 0 1 11 18 0.327 6 3 21 3 0.338 1 0
Michael Conforto 0.281 121 17 34 7 0 8 36 65 0.537 11 5 23 2 0.365 0 1
Projected KJ 12 27 4 0 2 22 37 12 6 43 6 2 0

PA K% BB% BABIP Avg OBP% Slg%
KJ Harrison 64 32.8 9.4 0.353 0.236 0.338 0.327
Michael Conforto 137 16.8 8.0 0.289 0.281 0.365 0.537

Conference Play Batting Stats

Both Beavers dropped off although Harrison's sample size is quite small. The falloff has been much more drastic for Harrison however. The numbers that leap out are the jumps in K% in how well his BABIP has held despite the substantial drop in batting average.

Again when KJ can get the ball in play he does well, although the dropoff in slugging percentage is interesting as well. Perhaps he is just looking to hit right now, and is not as worried about destroying the ball. Either way the higher level pitching in the Pac-12 seems to have befuddled the freshman as it did Conforto before him, although big Mike seemed to keep his power with more discilpline.

If Harrison can reclaim his plate discipline (as is often discussed), he is still getting the ball into good spots and should be able to crank the hit machine back up.

More than anything else the numbers show that Harrison is not actually that far outside of the much-heralded Conforto plane. He is hitting at an absurd level and he has earned the right to be discussed as one of the top hitters in recent Oregon State history. With five weekends left to go on the year he still has a chance to improve that standing as well.