Right-Handers Left for Dead

These things happen every year. Last Thursday, I wrote about my renewed roto affinity for Edinson Volquez and how the Pittsburgh Pirates seemed to be rescuing him. (Jeff Sullivan did a better job of quantifying some of the real improvements in the wild northpaw’s game a day later.)

It’s fun when the subjects of comeback stories are useful fantasy players as well. Your opponents are waiting for what they perceive as overdue corrections to burn you. You’re wondering how much longer you should ride this wave of unbelievable fortune. Bartolo Colon is texting these dudes to welcome them to the club.

Volquez is too young and too talented to be a member. Of course, these hurlers, like Inigo Montoya, are not left-handed. At one time they displayed … certainly not brilliance … but serious rotisserie utility, even if for only a brief period. They devolved, however, perhaps for health-related reasons. It seemed likely that we’d never own them again. But here they are, now well into their 30s, and they appear to have pulses.

Aaron Harang, Atlanta Braves

This morning, I learned that I almost surely won’t be a Harang owner in either of my competitive, season-long fantasy leagues this year. I’ve had nominal contingency bids in on him, but they didn’t come through, and no one else wanted him either. Perhaps I’ve been too dismissive of his early-season success. His case is the most confounding, to me. Harang, 36 on May 9, posted sub-4.00 ERAs as recently as 2011 and 2012, but his final few years as a fading strikeout pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds and his nauseating 5.40 ERA for two teams last season were kind of etched into our collective conscious, weren’t they?

So where are all the strikeouts (27.3 percent of TBF in five starts) coming from? He made Mike Podhorzer’s list of NL Starting Pitcher Velocity Changes not long ago, but Harang’s last three starts have boomeranged that figure back to a rate similar to his from the previous four campaigns. After his Wednesday start, in which he fanned 11 Miami Marlins in six frames, Harang cited his aggressiveness in the strike zone as a reason for his success. But the percentages don’t back him up.

The effectiveness of all his pitches besides his curveball (which has generally maintained its value through the years but which he’s barely thrown this year) has skyrocketed. Why? According to Brooks Baseball, Harang has added a cut fastball, but he’s hardly used it. He’s resorted to his four-seam fastball, a pitch he seemed to have less faith in for the past few years, nearly 40 percent of the time. But this bit of change in usage alone can’t explain his career-best contact rate against and what would be the second-best SwStr% of his career.

Harang is a fly-ball pitcher who so far this year has induced them on more than 50 percent of the batted balls against him. Turner Field isn’t a bad place to work that way, but the pitcher with a lifetime 10.4 HR/FB has yet to surrender a ding dong. Carson Cistulli suggested that the move from the AL to the NL, where he has a job, is drive the jump for the No. 1 pitcher on his most improved list (by projected WAR).

I’ve seen no discernible reasons to believe that anything resembling Harang’s season-to-date work will continue, and the adjustments in HR/FB and BABIP could hurt. But regression generally expects only mean performance from that point forward, so perhaps he remains relevant in deep leagues. I’m still not sad that I don’t own him, but I can’t help but fear that I’m missing something. If you know, please share.

Alfredo Simon, Cincinnati Reds

This righty has always had fairly nasty stuff, but it seemed that control and command issues would relegate him to the bullpen for good following his repeated failings with the Baltimore Orioles. Simon has been an effective reliever for the Reds but prefers to start. Still, he’s in the Reds’ rotation only because they stretched him out in spring training and then injuries to Mat Latos and Brett Marshall occurred.

What gives? Simon, 33 in a couple of weeks, has more than doubled the use of his cutter since he joined Cincy. He’s pounded the zone more often in 2014 than he has in any year prior (he’s near the top 10 among qualifiers). As he told John Fay of USA TODAY Sports after one of his recent outings, “I just tried to keep the ball down and make them hit ground balls.” His grounder rate is above 50 percent for the second time in three years.

Simon’s ability is legit. If he continues to sacrifice a little velocity for control and ground balls, then it’s conceivable that he’ll be useful even as he regresses. His lack of strikeouts and the uncertainty of his spot are what cloud his future. But with the way things have gone this year for the profession, would it be shocking if Latos, whose latest ailment is a strained flexor mass in his right forearm, ended up needing TJS? I could see Simon carrying at least 15-team mixed-league value for a while longer, although perhaps it’s just my inherent bias.

Colby Lewis, Texas Rangers

It’s possible that Lewis, 35, will join these two. He’s made two starts and, as Cistulli wrote, there haven’t been many noteworthy differences between his past years’ and current (albeit extremely limited) season’s performances.

Full health has eluded Lewis in the past year and a half. It’s fair to say that he’s probably still not at that level, but he’s hell of a lot closer than he was at any previous point in said period. Elbow and hip surgeries are in the rearview. He likely still has a ways to go to build up stamina and rediscover his command fully. Those are two elements that could help to explain the subtle dissimilarities in his indicators thus far.

It wasn’t long ago that Lewis was a solid source of K’s and an aid in WHIP, if not necessarily ERA because of his serious round-tripper affliction. As long as he remains on this course, I think that he stands a good chance to become germane in deep mixed leagues by June.

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Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.

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Emcee Peepants
10 years ago

I picked up Harang after his second start but he has languished on my bench b/c I am too scared to use him.

Looking closer, his success may be due to who he’s faced? Miami (#3 in K%), the Mets twice (#2), the Nats (#10), and the Brewers (#18). Those teams have an average K% of 23.5%. Obviously 3/4 are in his division, so he might retain value as a streamer when he is facing the Marlins or Mets (or other high K% teams).