Harang’s Flaw

After three consecutive seasons with ERAs under 4.00 in one of baseball’s most unfriendly ballparks to pitchers, perennially underrated pitcher Aaron Harang is currently holding a 5-16 record and a 4.70 ERA leading to many traditionalists passing it off as a terrible season. But what really, if anything, has changed for Harang in 2008 compared to his 2005-7 stretch and is his season really all that bad?

The first such piece of evidence to investigate is the strikeouts since they usually tell us most of the story. From 2005-7, Harang punched out 21.1% of the batters that he faced. That’s down to 19.6% in 2008. Okay, that is a decline, but it’s not much of one, equaling about 15 batters per full season or less than half a batter per start.

Lets move on to free passes. It is usual here to just look at walks, but there are two problems with that. One, it counts intentional walks which any measurement will tell you are just not nowhere near as costly and in terms of evaluating a pitcher’s control should just ignored. Secondly, it ignores hit batters, an egregious omission since hitting a batter is almost always indicative of poor control. Over the prior three year span, Harang let just under 6% of batters reach base freely while this year it has moved to just a shade over 6%, a really minuscule difference.

What is mostly responsible for Harang’s suffering this season are the fly balls and the home runs. Harang’s groundball rate has plunged to its lowest rate since 2002 back when he was with the Athletics. In addition to that, Harangs percentage of home runs allowed per fly ball is also at an all time high, not a good thing to miss with a newfound increase in fly balls. In fact, if you took Harang’s home run per batter faced rate from 2005-7 and applied it to 2008, you should shave 11 home runs off his season which all by itself would be enough to bring his ERA down under the 4.00 mark assuming the standard 1.4 runs per home run.

It seems likely that Harang’s groundballs and home runs per fly would regress a bit toward his career norms next season, making him more than a decent buy low candidate but there is another ominous sign. Paired with the decline strikeout rate is a rather abrupt fall in swinging strikes generated, a key driver of strikeouts going forward for pitchers. I would expect Harang to get his home runs allowed back under a bit more control in 2009, but pay careful attention to those strikeouts to see if they fall off any more.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

5 Responses to “Harang’s Flaw”

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  1. How’s his stuff, PITCHf/x-wise, is the next question. If he’s leaving the ball up, or has lost velocity/movement, regression may not occur – the drop in performance could be due to an increase in pulled flyballs, flatter pitches, leaving stuff up or over etc etc.

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  2. Rick says:

    From the scouting perspective, when Harang started going bad, he had a significant flaw in his delivery. His already short stride had shortened up even further. As a result, his arm wasn’t coming through as far before he was releasing the ball. He lost 3-4 mph, was getting less downward movement (particularly on his change up), and was pitching up in the zone even with his fastball — very uncharacteristic for Harang. He’s built his success on attacking the low end of the strikezone with great frequency.

    All of this seems to match with the results data. Up in the zone with flatter, slower stuff = lots more flyballs and homers.

    He’s been working to get the flaw corrected, and has been improved over the last month. It shows both from the scouting and stat perspectives.

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  3. Isaac says:

    Like Rick said, it seems like whatever he has been doing wrong for the better part of the season is now corrected. He’s been great over his last six starts, with an RA of 2.14. He has also faced some quality offenses during that span, those belonging to the Cardinals, Cubs, Rockies and Astros.

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  4. Jeff says:

    Look at his splits before and after May 25. He threw 103 pitches on May 22, then Dusty used him for 63 pitches in relief on the 25th in that disastrous 18-inning game and brought him back for 73 more pitches on the 29th. It probably just took him a few months and a stint on the DL to recover from the damage Dusty caused.

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  5. Reds Stats Nut says:

    Matt, I know this is an old post, but I was wondering if you or anyone else has looked deeply into Harang’s Pitch F/X data to see if there is anything potentially wrong with his mechanics, release point, velocity, etc. I plan to do this myself on some level, but I’m not sure I have access to the data behind the Pitch F/X graphs where I could combine starts onto one graph to get the overlay I’d like. Do you have any recommendations? I was thinking of taking a few 2007 starts and pre-5/25/08 (the San Diego relief appearance) starts and comparing them to mid-2008 and 2009 starts. My thought was to take good starts from both periods and bad starts from both periods and put them side-by-side to see if there were anything to see. Jeff Brantley apparently did a pretty good breakdown of his mechanics on TV a few starts ago, but I didn’t get a chance to see it. If you have any advice, I’d love to hear it. Thanks, and keep up the good work!

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