Last week, I took a look at Reds ace Aaron Harang and his poor 2008 season, in order to see exactly what went wrong. His strikeout rate dropped, walk rate rose, and home run rate skyrocketed to a level rarely seen, putting his controllable skill measures right in line with his ERA. Even when we adjusted for the very high home run rate, his FIP was still much higher than the marks posted from 2005-07. Suffice it to say, it appeared that Aaron Harang legitimately had a bad season and was not immensely better than his 6-17 W-L record along the same lines that Matt Cain is usually much better than his records.
After reading some of the comments here and at other sites that graciously linked to the article, I have changed my view somewhat, and would like to shed light on the theme most prevalent in the discussions: the before and after of Harang’s controversial relief appearance. See, on May 25, in an extra-innings affair against the Padres, Dusty Baker called on Harang to pitch in innings 13-16. In that span, Harang surrendered two hits, walked just one hitter, and fanned nine of them, an extremely effective performance.
Entering that game, Harang had made 11 starts, and had an average Game Score of 56, an ERA of 3.50, and a K/BB ratio of 3.50, with 18 walks and 63 punchouts. He seemed to be having a typical Harang year. His eleventh start took place on May 22, meaning he pitched out of the bullpen on May 25 on very short rest. Whether that outing resulted in a mechanical flaw developing or an injury occurring, his next ten starts were awful.
In the ten subsequent starts, Harang allowed 52 earned runs in 51.2 innings, for a 9.06 ERA. His OPS against rose to 1.087 while his average Game Score plummeted to 33. Always known for solid strikeout and walk rates, Harang’s K/BB dropped to around 2.3, much lower than the 3.5+ he has grown accustomed to. The relief outing definitely seemed to have some sort of an effect on the righty, one that hurt his overall seasonal numbers.
The outlook might not be bleak, however, as Harang closed the season out quite strongly. Over his final eight starts, he posted a 2.83 ERA, a K/BB above 3.0, an average Game Score of 57, and a much lower OPS against of .733. Perhaps the injury or mechanical flaw dissipated as the final two months of the season rolled around, but Harang definitely performed much better than he did over the summer. In the previous post, I suggested that the Harang of 2005-07 was likely gone, but I have to amend that a bit right now.
I believe that Harang is experiencing normal dropoffs in his strikeout and walk rates, but that his home run rate will regress. He is not nearly as bad as he looked over the summer, just like he isn’t a true talent 2.83 ERA pitcher. His true talent level and projection for 2009 will not be as nice as the level entering this season, but he can still be a very effective pitcher, especially if the bugs hurting him over the summer have been exterminated.
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