Don’t Give Up On…Aaron Harang

You’ll have to forgive Cincinnati Reds righty Aaron Harang if he scowls in the direction of the Washington Nationals’ dugout on Friday night. His mound opponent, Livan Hernandez, has been Mr. Lucky this season. Livan holds a 2.15 ERA through his first 10 starts, despite a nothing-special 4.90 xFIP. Harang, by contrast, seems to have a black could hovering directly above his 6-foot-7 frame.

In 65.2 innings spanning 11 starts, the 32-year-old has a grisly 5.48 ERA. He has surrendered 79 hits and 11 home runs. It looks like Harang is getting hammered, and fantasy owners have jumped ship — his Yahoo ownership rate is down to 36 percent. But beneath those ugly numbers, Harang still possesses the skills of a quality starter worthy a roster spot.

Harang has whiffed 7.13 batters per nine innings, walking just 2.06 per nine. That way in which he’s getting those sturdy peripheral stats has been different in 2010. Normally a guy who fills the strike zone, Harang has instead relied upon hitters to chase his stuff off the plate. He has put 44.5% of his pitches within the zone (54.3 career average, 47.5% MLB average in 2010). But batters are taking the bait on outside pitches 30.4% this year, compared to a 24.4% career average and the 27.8% MLB average this season.

The process is different, but the results are the same: a slightly above-average K rate and few free passes. Harang’s xFIP, based on strikeouts, walks and a normalized home run per fly ball rate, is 3.84. Few starters have displayed a larger split between ERA and xFIP. So, why is Harang’s ERA so huge?

For one, Harang’s batting average on balls in play is .338. It’s true that Harang has a higher-than-average BABIP during the course of his major league career, and he is giving up line drives at a 25.5% clip in 2010. But even so, expect that figure to regress somewhat — Harang’s career BABIP is .317, and his expected BABIP (based on the opposition’s rate of homers, K’s, SB’s, line drives, fly balls and pop ups) is .315 this season.

He should also improve in terms of stranding base runners. Harang’s left on base rate is 66.2% this year, while his career strand rate is 73% and the major league average is in the 70-72% range.

Finally, Harang likely won’t be taken yard as often in the months to come. His home run per fly ball rate is 15.3 percent, compared to a career 11.2% rate and the 11% MLB average. Granted, Great American Ball Park produces more souvenirs than most venues — it has a four-year home run/fly ball park factor of 114, meaning GABP produces 14 percent more dingers per fly ball hit than a neutral field. But even allowing for that fact, as well as Harang’s fly ball tendencies, he has been unlucky.

GABP causes about 12.5 percent of fly balls hit to turn into homers (multiplying GABP’s HR/FB park factor, 1.14, by the average rate at which fly balls become round-trippers — 11 percent). At home, Harang has given up a home run on eight of his 50 fly balls allowed (16 percent). On the road, he has allowed 3 homers on 22 fly balls (13.6 percent). Overall, Harang should have surrendered either 8 or 9 home runs instead of 11. So, his HR/FB rate would be 11.1% if he gave up eight HR and 12.5% if he allowed nine HR. Harang’s not a great fit for his home park, but expect fewer slow trots around the bases for the opposition.

This would be a good time to snag Harang — he’s available in the majority of leagues, and he hasn’t suddenly turned into a punching bag. That black cloud above Harang’s dome should dissipate soon.





A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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Dingo
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Dingo

I’ve noticed that while his xFIP is solid, Harang’s tERA is an ugly 5.71. I don’t understand tERA enough to get why there’s such a big difference between these peripheral-based stats — is it because of all of the line drives he’s been giving up?