What’s eating Aaron Harang?

On Matsui and the designated hitter
Joba to get long layoff after Sunday start

I’ve always been an unabashed fan of Aaron Harang and his ability to post excellent ERA numbers despite pitching his home games at The Great American Ballpark. Something’s happened over the last two years, though, and he’s just not the pitcher he was from 2005 through 2007. Jon Heyman notes that the Reds righty has cleared waivers, but that even “the Yankees think Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang are overpriced.” At $18.5 million for Harang’s current level of production, that’s not surprising. So what changed Harang around?

The narrative points to May of 2008. Harang had just come off a poor start against the Padres, raising his ERA to 3.50. He had been his usual excellent self to that point in the season, and there was nothing that would indicate a change in performance. Then, on two days’ rest, or in other words his throw day, Dusty Baker inserted Harang into the 13th inning of a game. On a day he was just supposed to throw in the bullpen, Harang threw 63 pitches over four innings, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out nine. It was stellar, but it was also risky.

Harang then went out on three days’ rest to face the Pirates next time out, and got hammered for six runs over four innings. From the extra inning stint through the rest of the season, Harang allowed 69 runs over 105.2 innings, a 5.88 ERA. We know that correlation does not imply causation, but this looked like one strong correlation. What else could explain a pitcher who had an excellent three-year track record and a solid opening to the season falling off a cliff?

A 4.43 ERA this year might indicate that Harang hasn’t refound what made him so good from 2005 through 2007, but there are some indicators that he could turn it around. His strikeout rate is back up to his career normal after dipping a half a strikeout per nine last season. His walks are low as per usual. The difference, really, is that he’s still allowing more hits than in the past this season. In fact, he leads the NL in hits allowed. That’s obviously not a good thing, but considering his other peripherals, it might be a sign that Harang could come out of this funk.

For some reason, road woes are destroying Harang’s stats. He’s pitched 75.1 innings in the hitter’s haven that is the GAB, and has pitched to a 3.70 ERA and 1.235 WHIP. In his other 73 innings he’s had a 5.18 ERA and a 1.630 WHIP. That seems rather odd, that he’d pitch worse on the road than in a pitcher’s park. He does have a .368 BABIP on the road, vs. a .312 mark at home, so bad luck could be a factor.

Also, according to FanGraphs’s Pitch Type Values, Harang’s slider isn’t what it was in his three-year stretch. The linear weights indicate that it took a dive in 2008 and hasn’t recovered in 2009. He’s throwing it at about the same rate, but there is a noticeable difference: it’s lost about one to 1.5 mph over its peak velocity in 2006. Is that’s what causing the pitch to be ineffective? The linear weights also suggest that his fastball has been significantly worse over the past two years. That could go a long way in explaining his ineffectiveness. (And also why righties are feasting on him this year.)

(It must also be noted that these Pitch Type Value stats are experimental and not necessarily totally accurate. Still, the dip in velocity correlating with the dip in productivity does raise a red flag.)

Why is this up on a Yankees blog? Because Aaron Harang could make an excellent addition to this pitching staff. Problem is, his contract makes him a huge gamble. Perhaps he could refind the stuff that defined him from 2005 through 2007 in a new environment. Maybe he’d thrive at the New Yankee Stadium like he has at the GAB this season. If everything went right, he’d not only help the Yanks down the stretch, but also help fill in for Chien-Ming Wang next season while the latter recovers from shoulder surgery.

Of course, there aren’t many, if any, instances where everything goes right. A change of scenery might do him good, or it might not do anything at all. Acquiring him would be a rather large risk, to the tune of $18 million. That’s quite a gamble for a guy who would probably be, at best, a No. 3 starter in the AL. Still, the idea is intriguing enough for me to do this write-up. It’s so enticing, to see a pitcher at the bottom of his value who you know can pitch so much better. There’s little to no chance that the Yanks act on it, though.

On Matsui and the designated hitter
Joba to get long layoff after Sunday start
  • http://votepaulformayor.blogspot.com jsbrendog

    welcome to the recession world, where even te yankees think someone is too expensive

    • pat

      Where even the Yankes make the Pirates pay Eric Hinske’s salary.

      • whozat

        I love that.

        “Hey, Pitt…can you pay Hinske to come hit four jacks in his first couple games for us? thanks!”

    • whozat

      I think they’ve always thought that some players were overpriced for their value, at least the last few years. If Harang’s deal was expensive but up at the end of the year, they’d be on him. I think it’s the expense AND commitment of a roster spot going forward that makes them leery.

    • VO

      I actually think Hal actually wants to stick by his budget.

  • Lanny

    Can think of worse back end types for this rotation right now.

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly known as RAB poster)

      Like Mitre, for example?

  • Jersey

    Eh, you could make an argument for him (like you could for a lot of guys), but ultimately: do they really need him for the stretch run? Do they really need him in the postseason? Do they even have a spot for him in the rotation next year? I think the answer to all these questions is pretty much no.

  • dkidd

    i think having a durable innings eater for the back of the rotation is worth the $$$. burnett’s history suggests he will miss some time in the next 3 + years and andy is likely to walk away after this year. i’d rather spend money on harang then a left fielder

  • gio

    Title should read: What’s Aaron Harang Eating?” Dude’s got a gut and a half.

  • bobtaco

    I’d roll the dice, but it’s not my $.

    If he didn’t work out after a stint, deal him somewhere back in the NL, and pay a portion of his salary.

  • Dela G

    i would say hell no to harang

    18.5 milly for that production?

    eh, i’ll pass

    • Zack

      i think that 18.5m is a little out of place.
      its 4m for the rest of this season. 12.5m next year, and 2m buy out the following year

      So is the 4m this year worth it as a replacement over Mitre/Gaudin/etc? Yes
      And is the 12.5m guranteed next year worth it over Pettitte? Probably not, unless Pettitte goes downhill this 2nd half again

      • Dela G

        true, but i still wouldnt take that production for 12.5 mil next year

        he’s an 7-8 mil pitcher in my eyes

        • Zack

          I get that. And maybe if the standing were closer this year we would probably be okay with having to have him next year.
          He’s definately not worth 12.5m, but that’s his contract. Cincy took on all of Rolen’s contract and paid Boston a little over a million for Gonzalez so who knows. My thinking is that I want someone in there that I know is going to give me 190+ IP behind CC and AJ, because that allows Hughes to be the 5th starter and skip starts due to his inning limit- without bringing up some rehab project or san deigo castoff, because a 6.5 game lead may not be a luxury next year

      • toad

        According to Cot’s, if he’s traded the 2011 $14 million option becomes a mutual uption. Not 100% clear to me what that means, but it sounds like Harang can demand the $14 mil for 2011 from the Yankees, or pay $2 mil and become a free agent.

        Is that right? If so, it’s really a bad deal, since you’re stuck if he bombs and don’t get to keep him if he recovers and excels.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

          No, a mutual option is what it sounds like: both sides have to agree to pick it up, or it’s nixed. So if the Yanks don’t want to pay Harang $14 mil, they can pay him the buyout and that’s that. But if the Yanks want to pick up the option, Harang has to agree, or else he can become a FA.

  • Jeremy

    Why put the “dump” in salary dump?

  • pat

    I’d rather take that 17 mil and trade for Ichiro to play LF next year.

    • whozat

      Holy false dichotomy, batman!

      Harang’s deal is 4MM for the rest of this season, 12.5 MM for 2010, and a 2MM buyout in 2011.

      Ichiro is 17MM per each season for 2010 – 2012. ComPLETEly different animals.

      • pat

        Haha, no I wasn’t trying to fool people I totally misread the article, I thought he was making 18 mil per. My bust yo.

        • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

          …ok, so now the $ is just a downpayment on Ichiro :)

          i still like that better…but lets let him play right if swisher can figure out left, so Damon can…never mind.

          Ichiro+$15M>Harang

          • pat

            I feel like his athleticism would be wasted in RF in Yankee Stadium. I’d prefer to leave the Swish experience in RF and put the much more agile and better defender in LF.
            This is all hypothetical so whatever. 17 mil is a BOOTLOAD.

  • MattG

    By my count, he’s guaranteed $14.5 M after this year, and approximately $2.25M for the rest of this year. Fangraphs pegs his 09 value at $10.3M.

    Therefore, a trade of a prospect that is a little down the list, for Harang + $4M, would interest me, as would a trade of a prospect WAY down the list for Harang even up.

    He would be very useful for this stretch drive, if only to protect Joba from overuse, and very useful in 2010. I think you have to proceed as though Wang and Pettitte will not contribute next year, meaning at least one 200 inning starter is needed.

  • E-ROC

    Picking Aaron Harang would be good for this year, but may not be a better alternative to someone like Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer, or even Andy Pettitte for next year.

    • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

      really, i think we can cobble together a fifth and half a fourth spot for the rest of the year with Gaudin, Mitre, Aceves, Robertson, Melancon, HUGHES.

      I would rather focus on not doing anything this year that takes away from either landing a legit mid-rotation guy to buffer the kids (Joba and Phil and IPK yeah i said it) in case Andy doesnt come back or doesnt make it all year or Wang doesnt show up at all next year (have we agreed we’d be happy to see him out of the pen this time year?).

      Andy>>>>>Harang

      (yes, i know, i changed the parameter of the argument, just shut up Bo!)

  • Mr. Max

    Luxury tax. 12.5 m is almost 18 anyway.

  • A.D.

    Harang has some weird splits, much like Gaudin, pitching better in the smallpark? Gaudin getting shelled in Petco? very odd.

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