Word is Aaron Harang has cleared waivers, meaning he can be traded to any team. Any takers? Is that the sound of crickets chirping that I hear? It feels a little weird that no clubs are interested in the Harangutan, a pitcher who averaged 5 WAR per season from ’05-’07. Let’s look closer and see if the apathy is deserved.
Harang was a shell of his normal self last year, and even spent time on the DL with forearm tightness. His struggles have been well chronicled, with the fault landing on Dusty Baker, every saber-minded baseball fan’s favorite punching bag. The censure may be well deserved. Rewinding a bit, on May 22nd, Harang took his start on normal rest. On May 25th, Baker called upon Harang and his resilient arm into a tie game in the 13th inning. Harang threw 63 pitches over 4 shutout innings in extra innings and then proceeded to make his next start on the 29th. He crumpled under the load, pitching terribly until he hit the DL on July 9th. Upon returning from the DL, he eventually reverted back to his normal self for his last 8 starts.
This season, Harang has shown improvement, but hasn’t recaptured ace status. He has increased his K/9 rate from 7.5 to 8. His command has rebounded too, with a 3.5 K/BB ratio. The problem is he’s still afflicted with gopheritis. His 1.3 HR/9 rate is a step up over his 1.7 rate from last year, but it’s still not up to snuff. Peculiarly enough, he’s allowing more homers away from the Great American Bandbox than in it.
Not only has Harang taken a beating with the homers, he’s also allowed a 24% line drive rate which has bloated his BABIP to .347. Depending on what side you fall on in the tRA/FIP debate, you could attribute these numbers to poor luck. His xFIP is a healthy 3.85, which is right in line with the rest of his career and a lot better than his current ERA of 4.43. His tRA is 4.74, scaled to ERA that would be about 4.35. His regressed tRA (tRA*) is just .01 higher, suggesting Harang isn’t out of the woods yet. I’ll let smarter folk than I argue the merits of xFIP over tRA and vice versa, I just refer to both to illustrate that there’s some uncertainty with Harang. That half a run difference, over 180-200 innings, is a little over a win, if you feel these numbers foreshadow Harang’s performance going forward.
His contract calls for $12.5M next season, and if he’s traded, Harang’s $12.75M club option for 2011 with a $2M buyout becomes a $14M mutual option. If you believe that Harang could be a 3.5 win pitcher or better with a simple change of scenery, then he has surplus value. If you believe that his best days are behind him and he’s more of a 2.5 WAR pitcher going forward, then his surplus value is zilch. Teams also might see the decline in performance, Dusty finagling and the high mileage on Harang’s arm and be totally scared off.
When Harang signed his 4-year, $36.5 million extension, it looked like a sweetheart of a deal. He was one of the best and most unheralded pitchers in the game. In hindsight, the deal still looks quite solid for the Reds, but it’s not the huge bargain that it originally appeared to be, which is precisely why Reds’ GM Walt Jocketty is having such a difficult time trying to move it.
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