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