The Harangutan

The Cincinnati Reds may have struggled to compete over the last several seasons, but there were still several bright spots. One of these positives was the right arm of ace Aaron Harang. A former Athletics prospect, Harang emerged as a durable and extremely effective pitcher for the Reds, compiling some of the best numbers in the senior circuit from 2005-07. In that span, he made 32+ starts each year and amassed a minimum of 211.2 innings pitched. His K/9 rose from 6.93 to 8.47, while his BB/9 with intentional walks removed dropped from 2.04 to 1.80 before settling in at 1.90 in 2007.

Harang’s WHIP of 1.27 in 2005-06 dropped to 1.14 in 2007, and his strand rate ranged from 73.8%-74.6%, three marks well above average. Additionally, his ERA decreased from 3.83 to 3.73. Unfortunately for Harang, his HR/9 rose from 0.94 to 1.09, and his FIP “rose” from 3.67 to 3.71. In 2005-06, his FIP was better than the ERA, however in 2007, they were essentially identical. Regardless, it is hard to argue that he seemed on the verge of several all star berths as one of the best righthanded pitches in the National League.

This season, however, he suffered a setback. In 30 games, 29 of which were starts, he only tossed 184.1 innings, and experienced worse numbers pretty much across the board. His K/9 decreased by one full strikeout to 7.47, while his unintentional walk rate rose to 2.20. This increase in walks, coupled with a .317 BABIP resulted in a 1.38 WHIP, his highest in any full season. Additionally, his 4.78 ERA and 4.79 FIP were significantly worse than anything over the previous four seasons. How did this happen? Well, it’s easy to point to a lack of luck, but was that really the case?

Harang’s HR/9 skyrocketed to 1.71, way up from the 1.09 in 2007, so perhaps his performance really was the result of bad luck. Unfortunately, his dropoff in strikeouts also contributed to the higher FIP, as his walk rate did not necessareily rise that much. The .317 BABIP, as well, while much higher than average, is actually in the same range as his marks in 2004-06, when he was able to produce quality seasons, and his strand rate of 73.6% is not only above average but right in line with his 2005-07 rates. And even though the HR/9 rose to 1.71, his HR/FB was just 13.9%; while 13.9% is definitely above the average of 10-11%, it was not as if this rate soared to 17-20% or anything along those lines. One way to check if poor luck with regard to the home run aspect of controllable skills affects the FIP is to look at the normalized version of the metric. Via The Hardball Times, Harang’s xFIP was 4.38, meaning yes, he was a bit unlucky, but still significantly worse than 2005-07.

This past season saw his highest percentage of flyballs in a full season at 44%, so he threw more balls in the air, and a higher percentage than usual left the park. This should regress moving forward, but the dropoff in strikeouts does signal some sense of a dropoff. He lost some velocity on the fastball, but nothing drastic enough to claim a large role in the much poorer 2008 campaign. Is Harang as bad as he performed in 2008? No, not by a longshot, but there was a serious performance decline here that cannot be chalked up solely as bad luck, which could have to do with some type of injury, or could signal the start of his decline. He will likely be much better next season, but the potential award winner from 2005-07 may be gone for good.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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Harang really started to struggle around the same time Dusty Baker used him for 4 IP in relief (2H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K) and then ran him out to start on three days rest. Mechanically he lost it a bit, using an even shorter stride than normal and leaving a lot of pitches up in the zone and a loss of velocity across the board. The result was a lot more fly balls than usual and a lot more homers. He ended up losing month on the DL.

The loss of effectiveness in 2008 was not likely due to an actual loss of skill but rather of a mechanical issue either resulting in or from a lingering injury. I expect him to be back to his 05-07 form in 2009.