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Friday, May 12, 2006

Better Know a Red #16 - Aaron Harang

Today is a special day here at OBR. Better Know a Red is sweet sixteen, and we're celebrating by profiling the big ace of the Reds pitching staff, 28-year old Aaron Harang. Harang was drafted and signed by the Texas Rangers in the 6th round of the 1999 amateur draft out of San Diego State University, California. Harang performed well in his first two seasons in the Texas Rangers organization, but was traded to the Oakland Athletics along with Ryan Cullen for Randy Velarde after the 2000 season. After another year in the minors, Harang made his major league debut in 2002, going 5-4 with a 4.83 ERA in 15 starts.

The Cincinnati Reds traded for Harang a year later, sending Jose Guillen to the A's and getting Harang, Jeff Bruksch, and Joe Valentine. Harang immediately entered our rotation, had limited success in 2004, and then took the role of ace (by default) in 2005. There is no other pitcher on our staff that the Reds are counting on more than Harang in this early season. Sure, Arroyo has been hot to start the year, and Milton and Claussen need to turn in good performances for us to compete all summer long. But Harang is the only guy that we have who doesn't need to improve. We just need him to keep throwing the way he did last year. And there's no reason to think he can't do just that.

Additional biographical information (with a humorous slant) can be found in Harang's entry in Red Hot Mama's Human League.

Historical Statistics (for explanations of the statistics used in this feature, please see the Baseball Statistics Quicksheet in the sidebar):
2003/OAK-AAA 69.2 7.8 2.2 0.65 0.279 2.71 3.14 4.46 10.5 --
2003/CIN-AAA 3.0 12.0 6.0 3.00 0.444 15.00 6.87 --- --- ---
2003/OAK 30.1 4.8 2.7 1.50 0.326 5.34 5.19 5.23 1 37%
2003/CIN 46.0 5.1 2.0 1.17 0.273 5.28 4.42 4.73 1 48%
2004/CIN-AAA 3.0 9.0 9.0 3.00 0.571 12.00 8.53 --- --- ---
2004/CIN 161.0 7.0 3.0 1.45 0.297 4.86 4.73 4.77 9.1 45%
2005/CIN 211.2 6.9 2.2 0.94 0.293 3.83 3.74 4.03 38.9 40%
Harang is developing wonderfully thus far in his still-young career. 2004 was his first full season in the major leagues, and he showed that he was a guy who could strike guys out at an above-average rate, but could also get beat via walks and the long ball. Last year, when he really broke out, Harang was able to maintain his strikeout rate while dropping his walk rate well below average and getting his HR rate down to league-average. His FIP last year indicated that his 3.83 ERA was no fluke, and may have even been slightly inflated. By the end of the year, Harang's 38.9 VORP proved to be the best by a Reds pitcher since Elmer Dessens' astonishing 7-8, 3.03 ERA, 40.4 VORP season of 2002. In fact, it was the third best Reds pitching performance of the past 6 years, tracing back to Pete Harnisch's 1999 season in which he went 16-10 with a 3.68 ERA (50 VORP) to bring the Reds one win shy of the playoffs.

'03 to '05 Splits:
Category IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
vs. Left 207 6.6 2.6 1.09 0.279 4.30 4.21
vs. Right 241 6.7 2.4 1.27 0.308 4.59 4.48
Home 220 6.6 2.9 1.27 0.287 4.33 4.61
Away 228 6.6 2.1 1.11 0.302 4.58 4.11
Harang has very even splits against righties and lefties. If anything, righties have historically given him a bit more trouble with the long ball, though even that effect isn't particularly strong. His ERA bias has flipped in each of the last three years (in 2005 it favored lefties), though the HR-bias in favor of right-handed batters has remained consistent for the last two years. Overall, I wouldn't worry too much about lefty/righty matchups with the 6'7" right-hander.

Like a lot of pitchers that allow a reasonable number of fly balls, (40-45 GB% last 2 years), Harang's performance does suffer in Great American Ball Park, although his ERA doesn't show it. He allows more home runs there than away from home, though more surprisingly has walked far more batters at home vs. away. Walking hitters in that park is dangerous, as it does heavily favor home runs, even if overall it's a neutral ballpark.

PECOTA75 204.0 6.7 2.3 1.01 0.288 3.70 3.94 4.06 36.9 44%
PECOTA 199.3 6.5 2.5 1.13 0.294 4.21 4.22 4.50 23.4 43%
PECOTA25 180.0 6.4 2.8 1.20 0.301 4.73 4.44 4.95 10.5 43%
ZiPS 184.0 6.8 2.3 1.03 0.291 4.21 3.94 --- --- ---
While overall, PECOTA and ZiPS do predict a slight decline in Harang's performance this year, they still predict a very solid season for Harang. I'm biased, of course, but I personally expect something more akin to PECOTA75 from him this year. He's only 28, and therefore is still in the middle of the age range in which most pitchers have their best years (~27-30). I've seen nothing in his numbers that suggest he'll decline this season. If anything, he may still improve. One has to remember that last year was only Harang's second full season in the big leagues, so the guy is still learning. If he can maintain the vast improvements in his control that he found last year (and, so far, he has), Harang should continue to be our most reliable pitcher in the rotation.

I just hope he can stay effective long enough that we can surround him with some additional solid pitchers and make a real run at the playoffs. He's the first legitimate starting pitcher we've had since Pete Harnisch. While he might not reach the heights that Harnisch did, and probably isn't what you look for in an ace, Harang has proven to be a very solid pitcher who could be the #2 or #3 guy on most major league rotations. Can you imagine what our rotation would be like without him?

Baseball Archive, The
Baseball Cube, The
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Prospectus '06 Annual
Baseball Reference
Baseball Think Factory
CBS Sportsline
Fan Graphs
Hardball Times '06 Annual
Minor League Ball

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