What Happened to Harang?

Last season began well enough for Aaron Harang.

In fact, through his first 11 starts, he was having a normal, Harang-like season. Check it out:

first-11-starts2

Harang had a 3.50 ERA, more or less what we’d expect given those peripherals. But then, Dusty Baker made an interesting decision.

On May 22, Aaron Harang made a start on normal rest. Then, on May 25, Baker brought Harang into a tie game in the 13th inning. Harang proceeded to pitch 4 shutout innings, striking out 9 and throwing 63 pitches in the process. Harang’s next start was on May 29.

Starting pitchers have been known to pitch an inning out of the bullpen between starts, but Harang threw 63 pitches – in a tie game, no less. Of course, Harang has had a rubber arm over the last couple of seasons, having pitched over 200 innings in three straight years. If anyone could handle the added workload, it would be Harang, right?

Apparently not.

After the bullpen appearance, Harang had a 7.31 in his next eight starts. Here are his accompanying peripherals:

next-8-starts1

His strikeout rate was approximately the same, but he walked one more batter per nine innings. His homer rate also skyrocketed. The question is: was Harang unlucky – thanks to a very-high BABIP and homer rate – or was he hurt?

Well, Harang was placed on the DL on July 9 with a strained right forearm. He was then activated on August 10. However, he struggled mightily in his first two starts, giving up a total of 16 runs in 7 1/3 innings. After that, though, Harang seemed to regain his past form. Check it out:

final-8-starts1

He posted a 2.83 ERA over these eight starts.

So what does it all mean? Well…

On the one hand, Harang’s peripherals didn’t really change too much throughout the season, even after his bullpen stint. His walk rate rose, and it’s very possible that fatigue caused him to lose control of his pitches. However, his strikeout rate remained high, and it’s possible that his high BABIP and high homer rate could be more attributed to bad luck in a small sample size rather than anything else.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that Harang’s ERA changed drastically directly after his outing in the bullpen. If he did indeed lose control of his pitches (as evidenced by the higher walk rate), it’s not difficult to surmise that he was also grooving an inordinate amount of pitches, leading to a higher BABIP and higher homer rate.

After he returned from the DL, his first two starts were awful, but this can be very easily be attributed to the fact that he wasn’t yet fully healthy. In his final eight starts, Harang more-or-less returned to “normal” form. His BABIP was actually a little low, and his strikeout rate was lower than before. Again, it’s difficult to tell whether this is significant or the product of a small sample size.

If I had to guess, I’d say that the bullpen stint somehow screwed Harang up. It’s very possible that his 7.31 ERA was inflated partly due to bad luck, but it’s also clear that Harang was not as good of a pitcher after the bullpen outing as he was beforehand. It’s also clear that Harang was pretty much back to “normal” after returning from the DL (well, after his first two starts). This is further evidence for Harang actually being injured.

For next year, it’s fair to expect Harang to return to his normal numbers – his numbers before 2008. That means that he has the potential to be very undervalued going into drafts next year. There is, of course, a caveat: namely, the possibility that Harang is not fully healthy. This seems unlikely, however, given his performance over the final eight starts of the season.

Aaron Harang plays for a mediocre team, in front of a poor defense, in a hitter’s park. However, he is also a very good pitcher who is likely to put up numbers that are much better than his 2008 line. It’s reasonable to expect an ERA between 3.50 and 4, and a strikeout rate somewhere around 8 batters per nine. Harang is probably going to be undervalued in your league, and is an excellent sleeper.

We hoped you liked reading What Happened to Harang? by Peter Bendix!

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Mike
Guest

Absolutely agree on Harang as an undervalued bounce-back. And he owes it to me after last year. On a side note, do you think Willy Taveras’ D is as shot as his UZR suggests, or is that more a product of the large outfield in Coors Field that seems to produce depressed ratings for Rockies outfielders? ‘Cause I’d feel even better about Harang with a solid OF behind him.

Peter
Guest
Peter

Good question, Mike. And I have no idea what the answer is.

In theory, I’d guess that the large outfield in Coors has minimal influence on outfielders’ ratings, as quality center fielders should be able to cover the ground.

On the other hand, it could effect where players are positioned, thereby skewing their defensive ratings because they’re further back (or forward) than the otherwise might be.

It will be interesting to see how Taveras performs defensively. However, I think Harang is an excellent bounce-back candidate even if Taveras’s defense remains below-average.

John K.
Guest
John K.

The impact of any one fielder on any one pitcher is almost negligible in all but the more extreme cases. The difference between Taveras’ ’05-’06 (+12.1 UZR/150) and his ’07-’08 (-13.3 UZR/150), if legitimate, only comes out to 4.3 runs per 230 innings. The team would pay, yes, but not so much Harang.

Peter
Guest
Peter

Great point.

Mike
Guest

Very true. Thanks for the answers, both of you.