ESPN might consider the Mariners’ acquisition of Aaron Harang to be less important than the delivery of a goat head to Tom Ricketts. But this is a Seattle sports blog, and now we care about Aaron Harang more so than we did yesterday. And more so than we do about goat heads.
The M’s received Harang in a trade for minor leaguer, Steven Hensley, of whom I knew very little about. Hensley has been in the Mariners’ organization since 2008, but Casey — editor of this site and former member of the KGB — didn’t include him in his top-25 prospect lists in either of the last two years. Hensley walks too many guys, and that’s about all we care to hear about that. On to the main event…
If the 2007 version of Aaron Harang shows up in Seattle, that would be a best-case scenario. Picture a 29-year-old, 6’7” giant, positioned at the acme of his career: right between youth and savvy. 91-mile-per-hour four-seamers and sinkers are whipping by, juxtaposed by devastating sliders that draw whiffs on 34% of batters’ swings. His ERA, ballooned by Great American Ballpark, still sits down at 3.73, amply supported by a 4.19 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Harang may not be that pitcher anymore, but he isn’t garbage either.
His ERAs from his past two seasons—3.64 and 3.61—are good, though definitely hiding some important stuff. In 2011, he was the beneficiary of the most flattering ballpark known to right-handed pitching, Petco. According to StatCorner, Petco allows homeruns to left-handed batters at a rate equal to 62% of league-average, leading to a 21% cut to run-scoring. Harang pitch nearly two-thirds of his innings that ballpark, allowing just a 3.05 home ERA compared to a 4.30 FIP.
The following season, 2012, Harang pitched for the Dodgers, where his career-low .277 BABIP fueled much of his 3.61 ERA. Though his strikeout and walk numbers were more in line with Ubaldo Jimenez last season—which is to say, not good—his ERA was more in line with Shaun Marcum and Yovani Gallardo. Something’s gotta give. I vote BABIP.
That said, there’s reason to believe that Harang can help the M’s. To the right you can see that Harang’s velocity has not been as issue, as it often is with aging pitchers. As recently as March 20th, Harang could be seen whizzing four-seamers in at 90 mph, maxing out at 93.4. Of his 23 sliders that day, 11 induced swings, and four induced whiffs (36%). Small sample sizes and all, I can say objectively that Harang is not dead. I can say subjectively that he’d probably be better than one of Brandon Maurer or Blake Beavan right now.
In fact, here are some recent stats from the three guys that are—as of this morning—vying for the final two spots in the Mariners’ rotation:
So, you know, take what you will. Harang is not going to save the rotation, but perhaps somebody needs to fine tune some things in Tacoma or in the bullpen.