Archive for Rich Harden
A few weeks ago Tim Dierkes of MLBTR noted that there were still a handful of one-year stopgap starting pitchers on the market. Between the relative lack of activity on the Yankees’ part along with the team standing to benefit from added rotation depth (and not wanting to overpay for said depth), myself and others have spent a lot of time during the last calendar year trying to identify sensible low-cost options for the team. Of course, as our own Mike recently astutely noted:
“At this point, if the Yankees aren’t going to bring in someone clearly better than Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia, they’re just wasting their time. The A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, and David Phelps group is more than capable of filling those fourth and fifth spots.”
I’m very interested to see what Phelps (who I’ll be taking an in-depth look at on Monday), Noesi, and Warren might be able to do given the opportunity; however, this being the offseason and all I wanted to take one more pass through the unsigned names to see whether any of ‘em may make a modicum of sense. I began drafting this post two days ago; before I could even get through a couple of paragraphs a handful of names on my initial list quickly came off the board, including Aaron Cook (signed by the Red Sox to a minor-league deal), Paul Maholm (signed by the Cubs to a one-year, $4.25 million deal with a club option) and Wei-Yin Chen (somewhat inexplicably signed by the Orioles to a three-year deal that appears to have evaluated him on what he did prior to 2011).
Anyway, by my count here are the remaining guys presumably in line for one-year or minor-league contacts:
And here’s a link to a customized leaderboard I created on Fangraphs showing how they performed in 2011. There isn’t anything all that surprising in here; if you’re a believer in Bartolo Colon having another 2011 in him he’s pretty clearly the most appealing option of the bunch, having been the most valuable per fWAR, posting the third-best K/9, 5th-best BB/9 and 3rd-best FIP and xFIP.
Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda of course also look appealing, but as we know the Yankees remain uninterested unless either righty’s asking price drops substantially. The only other remotely appealing player in my book on this list is Rich Harden, who I covered extensively back in November, but his propensity to give up the long ball combined with legitimate health concerns are apparently outweighing the mouth-watering strikeout rate and continuing to keep suitors away.
For depth purposes, I still wouldn’t mind seeing the Yanks take a flier on Harden — who’s barely merited a mention on MLBTR this winter – if his price ends up being near the $1.5M deal he signed with Oakland last season, although at this point he doesn’t pass the “better than Nova and Garcia” test, nor is he an obvious upgrade over old friend Bartolo. Ultimately, if the Yankees do decide to pass on a Colon reunion and asking prices for others remain unfavorable, it would appear that their best move would indeed be to utilize the rotation depth they have at AAA for the 2012 season.
On Tuesday Mike took a look at the A’s starters that are still under contract that could theoretically be acquired via trade. Today I wanted to look at a righty who pitched for the A’s last season that could be acquired for just money: free agent Rich Harden.
Before we dive too deeply into this, note that a potential Yankee acquisition of Harden almost certainly wouldn’t occur until January, comes with the assumption that they don’t end up signing either Yu Darvish or C.J. Wilson, and that the team would likely be looking at the oft-injured Harden as the 2012 version of either Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon.
Anyway, it wasn’t too long ago that Harden was one of the best pitchers on the planet. Starting with his inaugural season through the end of 2009, Harden compiled the 9th-best ERA (3.39) in all of MLB among pitchers with 750-plus innings. Among that same group he posted the top K/9 in all of baseball (9.35) and 15th-best FIP (3.58).
Unfortunately, while the soon-to-be 31-year-old Harden has frequently been brilliant, he has of course also frequently been injured. He’s never thrown more than 200 innings in a season, and has only even broken the 150-inning plateau once, back in 2004 (a career-high 189.2 innings and 31 starts). Harden’s litany of professional injuries began in 2005, as he lost more than a month to an oblique strain, and suffered a shoulder injury later in the year. The 2006 and 2007 seasons were almost entirely lost to injury, as he made a combined 13 starts in between recovering from a series of back, elbow and shoulder problems.
Harden got semi-back on track in 2008, turning in a superb 13 starts for the Athletics (2.34 ERA/2.83 FIP) before being traded to the Cubs and compiling an even better 12 starts for Chicago (1.70 ERA/3.08 FIP) in the stretch run, though he still missed time with another right shoulder injury. The Cubs picked up Harden’s option for 2009, but still another back injury and right arm injury limited his effectiveness, and he turned in the worst full season of his career.
The Rangers ended up signing Harden in December 2009 to what seemed to be an aggressive one-year, $7.5 million deal. I was beating the drum pretty hard for Ben Sheets at the time — whose career rather eerily mirrors Harden’s — as both pitchers looked to be solid high-risk, high-reward signings. Harden wound up being terrible for Texas in yet another injury-plagued year, and was released after the season.
The A’s signed him to a one-year deal last winter, and though he (surprise, surprise) started the year on the DL with yet another shoulder injury, he threw fairly well over his first nine starts of the season, tossing to a 3.91 ERA and a crazy 10.2 K/9, showing that he still had his famous strikeout stuff despite a significant decline in velocity from his peak fastball. Unfortunately for Harden, the Yankees more or less broke him during the three-grand slam game, and he finished the season tossing to a 7.28 ERA over his final six starts.
So what does the enigmatic Harden have to offer potential suitors? I initially created a table breaking down his repertoire and results against righties and lefties over the last few seasons, courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com, but rather than post that monstrosity here I’ll just summarize.
Here’s the good news: all four of Harden’s pitches — the low-90s four-seamer, low-80s slider, low-80s changeup and low-80s splitter, were above-average Whiff% pitches against hitters from both sides of the plate. The changeup in particular wreaked havoc on righties, racking up a 30.8% whiff rate (compared to 12.6% league average). As a point of comparison, James Shields’s Whiff% with the change against righties was 20.5%. Now, Shields of course deployed the changeup quite a bit more frequently than Harden, but it’s still a point in Harden’s favor. Harden’s change has also been a valuable weapon against lefties, with a 20.5% Whiff%.
Here’s the not-so-good news (batted ball data from JoeLefkowitz.com):
While the slider was a strong swing-and-miss offering against righties, they also punished his apparently fairly frequent mistakes, as 2.6% of his sliders left the yard. In fact, Harden gave up a career-high 1.85 home runs per nine in 2011. The remainder of his batted-ball profile is a bit scary as well, with a 22.8% LD% that would’ve put him among the highest in baseball had he enough innings to qualify (though CC Sabathia finished in the top 10, so it’s not as if that’s some automatic death knell), while his GB% would have been among the lowest in the league.
Still, Harden finished the season with a 9.91 K/9, which is bound to draw interest from a number of different parties, even with his myriad injury issues. Even though he hasn’t been an elite pitcher since 2008, I would be surprised if Harden was still on the market by the time the Yankees would theoretically come calling.
That said, if he is still hanging around come January, and the Yankees still have an opening in the rotation, if I’m the Yanks I would absolutely take a flier on Harden, who they were looking at as a potential waiver-wire acquisition in August, and who probably isn’t in line for all that much more than the $1.5 million he picked up with the A’s last season.
Via Susan Slusser, the Yankees have scouted Rich Harden’s last two starts, as have a number of other clubs. The 29-year-old struck out eleven Blue Jays in seven two-hit innings last night, easily his best start of the season. Oakland already placed him on trade waivers earlier this week, and we know the Yankees have been aggressively blocking starting pitchers. The Red Sox almost acquired Harden at the deadline before he flunked his medicals, so that’s a serious red flag. Joe wrote all about the right-hander before the trade deadline, and I think this might be due diligence more than sincere interest.
There was a time when I’d have been greatly excited at the thought of Rich Harden in pinstripes. He absolutely dazzled earlier in his career, though injuries held him back considerably. He’s been a bit more healthful in the last two years, though he did miss significant time this year with a lat muscle injury. So far he’s thrown five starts with middling results, and the Yankees were in attendance for the latest one. It was an OK start, as he went six innings and allowed two runs, striking out seven and walking just two, against the Rays. They were also in attendance for his last start, when he held the Yankees themselves to two runs in 5.1 innings.
- It’s impossible to hear the name Rich Harden and not salivate over his ability to strike out batters. Even as he’s scrapped the devastating splitter in favor of a changeup, he’s still fanned his share of batters. This year he’s struck out more than a batter per inning in his five starts.
- Unadjusted Pitch f/x has him returning to the splitter this year. That’s a little scary from an injury perspective, but tantalizing from a stuff perspective. Baseball Info Solutions is still classifying it as a changeup, though, so I’m not sure what to make of it.
- SIERA, FanGraphs’ new ERA estimator, has liked him quite well in the past few years. The exception was last year, when he was apparently pitching hurt. That’s always a risk with Harden, but when he’s healthy he has the potential.
- He’s gotten a good amount of swings and misses this year. Not to the level he previously attained, but it’s still over 9 percent. The Yanks could definitely use another swing and miss arm.
- Remember the second half of 2008. That’s the year he got healthy with Oakland and then got traded to Chicago for the second half. In 12 starts there he absolutely obliterated the competition, striking out 89 in 71 innings and posting a 1.77 ERA.
- The Yanks couldn’t make any real plans with Harden, because of the injury risk. He might be healthy now, but who knows how long that will last?
- He’s had something of a home run problem this year, allowing six already in 29.1 innings. He also hasn’t gone a single start without allowing at least one homer. At least his only multi-homer game came on the road; allowing homers at the Coliseum is not a good sign.
- He’s always had a propensity to walk guys, which does not mesh well at all if he’s going to surrender long balls.
- Swinging a trade might be risky, in that it’d be tough to give up a pitcher near the majors. Rich Harden is not a guy you can sacrifice depth to acquire. They can’t really trade Adam Warren or Ivan Nova (not that they’d necessarily want to), because a Harden injury might mean the Yanks need those guys.
Until the day he retires, Rich Harden will remain a tantalizing name who frequently disappoints. He can go on an absolute tear, as we’ve seen on occasion in the past few years. But to give up anything of actual value for him is a folly, since he’s always one pitch away from a DL stint. Without receiving anything of value, Oakland has little motivation to deal him. I don’t see anything getting done. But if it’s 3:55 on Sunday and the Yanks haven’t done anything, and Beane is willing to take a B- prospect, well, even then that’s a stretch. But it’s about the only way I can see Harden in pinstripes this year.
Via Jon Paul Morosi, the Yankees are one of several teams that have checked in a free agent righty Rich Harden. Harden’s talent is obvious, but at this point it’s pretty clear that he won’t ever reach the ceiling so many projected. He’s been on the disabled list eight times in the last five seasons, dealing with everything from shoulder and elbow and hip strains to back soreness to a sore glute. Even beyond that though, Harden’s walked five guys for every nine innings pitched, and he’s an extreme fly ball guy (close to 50% over the last three years). The Yanks might be looking at a reliever, but still, pass. Just doesn’t fit.
Via MLBTR, the Yankees have expressed interest in some free agent starters. Like a whole lot of them. John Lackey, Rich Harden, Joel Pineiro, and maybe even Randy Wolf too. Of course, their first priority is retaining Andy Pettitte, and surely they’re stay in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes until the bitter end. The point is, the Yankees are clearly on the prowl for someone to shore up the middle of the rotation.
I’m not a fan of Lackey given his recent elbow issues and presumed exorbitant contract demands, and both Pineiro and Wolf should be nothing more than last resort options for the Yanks given their complete inability to miss bats in recent years. Harden’s a fine candidate as long as he comes on a short (one or two year) contract. That said, I’d rather have Ben Sheets on a one or two year deal than any of them.
On the surface, it’s hard not to salivate at this one. Harden is a nasty, nasty pitcher when healthy. Unfortunately, health has not been his forte. His career high in innings pitched came during his second major league season, at age 22 in 2004. He tossed 189.7 innings that year, to a 3.99 ERA. He was good, but not great that year, striking out 167 and walking 81.
The next year, however, was when he shined (shone?). His 2.53 ERA told part of the story, but his 121 strikeouts to 43 walks told another: That of an improving pitcher. However, he missed significant time during the season with an oblique injury, which sidelined him from May 14th through June 20th, and then another torso injury which had him pitching zero games between August 20th and September 24th. Even after that, he finished the season in the bullpen, and wound up with 128 innings pitched.
The next two seasons were far uglier, as he posted a combined 72.1 innings, including just 25.2 last year. His talent is still undeniable — that splitter is among the best, if not the best itself, among active players. However, the injury concerns are just too great for the Yanks to take on this season.
The San Francisco Chronicle article I linked earlier notes that Billy Beane would likely be looking for Ian Kennedy for starters, and likely Alan Horne and Jeff Marquez on top of that. In other words, there will be a discount, but it won’t be much. Those three for a healthy and productive Harden would be a good deal. Those three, or even just IPK and Horne, for a questionable Harden is an undue risk.
Remember, we’re still trying to figure out how to fill innings. In that regard, Kennedy has superb value for the Yankees. He has an innings cap for sure, but it will be well above that of Joba and Phil. I don’t see how anyone can expect more than 100 innings from Harden. And if he hurts himself again, the entire trade is a bust. The Yanks will have given up hundreds of innings of at least replacement level pitching (presumably) for an oft-injured starter who, even if healthy, won’t give them the innings they need.
It’s a great idea in theory. But communism works, in theory. If Harden gets through the year healthy, he should be eligible for free agency after the 2009 season. Maybe, then, we can start talking about trading for Harden this winter. But until he gets through 100, 120 innings without hitting the DL, I’d keep my hands off, despite the glorious upside he presents.