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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Reds sign Harang

In a spectacular move, the Reds signed Aaron Harang, who will be 28 years old when the season starts, to a 4-year contract, with a 5th year as a club option. With a total value, not including the option year, is $36.5 million, which works out to ~$9.1 million a year.

Now, consider these recent signings of starting pitchers:

Barry Zito - 7 years @ $18 million/yr
Daisuke Matsuzaka - 6 years @ $17 million/yr (if you count the negotiation fee toward the salary)
Jason Schmidt - 3 years @ $15.7 million/yr
Roy Oswalt - 5 years @ $14.6 million/yr
Vincente Padilla - 3 years @ $11.25 million/yr
Gil Meche - 5 years @ $11 million/yr
Jeff Suppan - 4 years @ $10.5 million/yr
Ted Lilly - 4 years @ $10 million/yr
Jeremy Bonderman - 4 years @ $9.5 million/yr

What's amazing to me about this list is that you could argue that Harang is a better pitcher than any of these guys. I'd probably take Bonderman given his age, and Oswalt does have a longer track record of success. .. And, of course, who knows what Matsuzaka will do, if anything? But Harang at least matches up well to all of them, and is significantly better than many of them.

To me, this deal is nothing short of a gift by Aaron Harang to the Reds and the city of Cincinnati. I honestly can't believe he signed for this little. I'm sure he could have at least made $12 million/year if he had gone to the free agent market next year, and probably could have topped $15 million.

Ok, to justify those claims I just made, let's quickly look at Harang's recent stats:
Year/Tm IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP PERA VORP GB%
2004/CIN 161.0 7.0 3.0 1.5 0.301 4.86 4.83 4.65 9.1 45%
2005/CIN 211.7 6.9 2.2 0.9 0.303 3.83 3.85 3.83 38.9 40%
2006/CIN 234.3 8.3 2.2 1.1 0.312 3.76 3.73 3.54 50.2 42%

Even though Harang is a fly ball pitcher, he has managed to keep his home run allowed rate at about league average thanks to his excellent control (2.2 bb/9 last two years) and excellent stuff (8.3 k/9 last year). Last year, he led the league in strikeouts, wins, innings pitched, and complete games. Harang has been a late bloomer, but he's had two excellent seasons in a row, is still only 28, and will still "only" be 32 when the Reds have to make a decision on their option year. As long as he can keep his strikeout rate up in the 7-8 range, which is where it's been the past three years, Harang should be a highly effective pitcher. And even if a few years from now he loses something on his fastball and his strikeouts drop into the ~6 range, he should still be a quality pitcher thanks to his control. It is a fantastic deal for the Reds.

My one concern is his workload. Harang has proven to be very durable, but the Reds need to be careful about having him pitch in excess of 220 innings now that they have a made a long-term commitment to him. Last year Harang was third in baseball (Arroyo was 6th) in pitcher abuse points, which do correlate to probability of major injury. Most notably, Harang had 18 starts (out of 35) in which he threw over 110 pitches, with one ridiculous start in which he tossed 135 pitches. An injury is the one thing that could make this deal go sour, so I'd like to see the Reds be a bit more careful with him moving forward.