CAPS Profile: Aaron Harang

image
Aaron Harang had a rough 2008, but could he be a steal in 2009 drafts? (Icon/SMI)

Aaron Harang was a popular pick in 2008 fantasy baseball drafts, often going as early as round six in 12-team mixed leagues. He had posted three consecutive seasons with 200+ innings and a sub-4.00 ERA and two consecutive seasons with 16 wins and over 200 strikeouts. Naturally, he seemed like a pretty solid pick. As we know, however, things didn’t work out as expected. Harang allowed a career high 35 home runs en route to a near-5.00 ERA. His full fantasy line looked like this:

+-------+---+------+------+-----+----+
| IP    | W | ERA  | WHIP | K   | SV |
+-------+---+------+------+-----+----+
| 184.3 | 6 | 4.78 | 1.38 | 153 |  0 |
+-------+---+------+------+-----+----+

That’s a very ugly line and meant Harang actually had negative value in many leagues. Flash forward to 2009, and we’re seeing Harang regularly being drafted in round 15 and ranked outside the top 35 or 40 starting pitchers. Was he as bad as his 2008 season indicated, though, and if he was, what are the chances of a bounce-back? Let’s take a look.

CAPS Profile

If you’re unfamiliar with CAPS (Context Adjusted Pitching Statistics), it’s a stat I invented and then improved upon earlier this offseason. It’s a stat that can’t be found anywhere else and can give us a much better picture of a pitcher’s true talent than unadjusted number. CAPS adjusts each of a pitcher’s component stats based on the following factors:

  • Past home ballpark
  • 2009 home ballpark
  • Past road ballparks
  • 2009 road ballparks
  • Past quality of opponents (neutralized)
  • League switch adjustments
  • Ground balls adjusted for league average line-drive rate (called xGB)

So what can CAPS tell us about Mr. Harang?

Note: In this table, the first line is Harang’s actual line for the season. The second line is his CAPS line for the season.

+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----+------+---------+-----+-------+-------+
| YEAR | AGE | IP    | ERA  | QERA | K/9 | BB/9 | K/BB RI | GB% | BABIP | HR/FB |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----+------+---------+-----+-------+-------+
| 2006 |  27 | 234.3 | 3.76 | 3.67 | 8.3 |  2.2 |    0.69 |  39 | 0.326 |  12.1 |
| 2006 |  27 | 234.3 | 3.76 | 3.47 | 8.5 |  1.9 |    0.73 |  40 | 0.328 |  11.4 |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----+------+---------+-----+-------+-------+
| 2007 |  28 | 231.7 | 3.73 | 3.44 | 8.5 |  2.0 |    0.75 |  40 | 0.292 |  11.2 |
| 2007 |  28 | 231.7 | 3.73 | 3.34 | 8.6 |  1.9 |    0.76 |  41 | 0.295 |  10.4 |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----+------+---------+-----+-------+-------+
| 2008 |  29 | 184.3 | 4.78 | 4.22 | 7.5 |  2.4 |    0.36 |  34 | 0.318 |  15.3 |
| 2008 |  29 | 184.3 | 4.78 | 4.07 | 7.4 |  2.1 |    0.40 |  36 | 0.315 |  13.9 |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----+------+---------+-----+-------+-------+

As you can see, Harang’s 2008 ERA was higher than his QERA would indicate. This is due to a worse-than-average HR/FB and BABIP, but mostly the HR/FB. League average was 11.3 percent, and Harang’s was over 15 percent. That’s a huge difference and explains most of the discrepancy.

If we look at his CAPS HR/FB, though, we see that it should have actually been 13.9 percent. That’s just a 2.6 percent difference from league average, and well within the range where we can safely assume that it was simply bad luck and not something more serious.

While we can write off the HR/FB rate, Harang’s 2008 CAPS QERA of 4.07 was still well above his 3.47 and 3.34 rates from 2006 and 2007. This tells us that while Harang was unlucky, he also experienced a skills decline. His K/9 dropped a full point, his walk rate increased by nearly half a point, and his groundball rate dropped six points.

I was hoping that CAPS would explain the strikeout drop, but unfortunately, it looks like it was for real. His CAPS BB/9, however, was in line with previous years (meaning there was nothing wrong with his control), and his groundball rate shouldn’t have dropped quite so far. Put this all together and Harang’s CAPS QERA is a respectable 4.07. And the good news is that, because of his history, this will likely improve in 2009. Marcels projects a 7.9 K/9, which would easily drop that QERA below 4.00.

Other considerations

If we look a little deeper, we can see why Harang’s strikeout rate was down this year.

Note: Below, I’ve listed his CAPS K/9, the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone the batter swung at, and the percentage of those pitches that the batter swung on and missed. The later two were derived from data on Harang’s FanGraphs page.

+------+----------+------------+-----------+
| YEAR | CAPS K/9 | OOZ-Swing% | OOZ-Miss% |
+------+----------+------------+-----------+
| 2006 |      8.5 |       27.7 |      50.8 |
| 2007 |      8.6 |       26.5 |      45.4 |
| 2008 |      7.4 |       26.0 |      35.2 |
+------+----------+------------+-----------+

As you can see, Harang induced just as many out-of-zone swings as he did in 2006 and 2007, but a far fewer number of them were swings and misses.

This amounted to losing 88 total strikes and—if we work off the assumption of three strikes per out—29 strikeouts. An extra 29 strikeouts would have increased his K/9 to 8.9. We obviously can’t make the assumption that he would have actually gained 29 strikeouts (those 88 strikes wouldn’t have been perfectly efficient), but I think it’s safe to say this was a big reason for his strikeout drop.

Some people like to use this—the ability to make batters swing and miss on pitches they shouldn’t be swinging at to begin with—as a measure of “stuff” and I generally tend to agree. In this case, though, I don’t believe that’s the case. Check out Harang’s PITCHf/x movement chart (a big thanks to Josh Kalk for the data).

image

Harang is primarily a two-pitch pitcher with a 90 MPH fastball and slider that usually sits just under 83 MPH (both are very good-to-great pitches). There’s also some change-ups and curves in there, but for simplicity’s sake they were classified as either a fastball or slider. As you can see, the movement on his pitches hasn’t changed very much at all from 2007 to 2008. There’s some wider variability in his 2008 fastball (more good than bad) and his slider dropped to around 81 MPH, but those are about the only differences in “pure stuff” I can tell.

So while Harang wasn’t able to get as many batters to go fishing in 2008, it doesn’t appear to be a matter of “stuff.” I’m not about to automatically qualify it as bad luck, but it’s certainly possible. Even if it isn’t bad luck but rather a matter of approach or something, it will be easier for Harang to correct than if he suddenly had lost some MPH on his fastball or movement on his pitches.

Concluding thoughts

When all is said and done, a 3.85 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 175 K (given 200 IP) would be quite attainable (and likely) for Harang, with his upside as his 2006/2007 numbers. Even if he does nothing more than this (and wins 12 games), though, Harang would still be worth roughly $20 in a 12-team mixed league and well worth the 14th- or 15th-round pick it would cost for him.

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Comments

  1. Mike Rogers said...

    It should also be noted that his entire season plummeted after Dusty Baker used him on 2 or 3 days rest for a 4 inning relief appearance in what I believe was a 19 inning game.

    His 11 games before the May 22nd game, he was posting: 74.2 IP, 73 H, 63 K, 18 BB. That comes out to 20.5% K rate and 5.9% BB rate. His 05-07 K and BB rates were 21.1 and 5.6%.

    On May 25th, he pitched on two full day’s rest (pitched on May 22nd), throwing 63 pitches over 4 innings. He then started May 29th and threw 73 pitches over 4 more innings in which he got rocked (10 H, 6 ER.

    From May 29th onward: 105.2 IP, 130 H, 81 K, 31 BB, and 471 batters faced. That’s K and BB rates of 17.2 and 6.6%. Not huge jumps, but coupled with an arm injury later in the year that shut him down from July 9th to August 10th, and I think there is a big possibility that his relief outing on short rest really had a big effect on him.

  2. RotoScoop.com said...

    I like Harang to bounce back this season and agree last year’s relief outing may very well have had an affect on his decline in performance.

    Moreover, the subtraction of Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr., who both finished in the bottom 10 among outfielders according to zone ratings (UZR/150), combined with the hopeful healthy return of Alex Gonzalez at shortstop, the Reds’ defense should be massively improved.

    However, I question just how “unlucky” that HR/Fly rate was, since Bronson Arroyo (14.5%), Johnny Cueto (14.2%) and Harang all finished in the bottom 10 in the league last year, so it looks like Great American Ball Park is a big factor here.

  3. Derek Carty said...

    Mike and rpa,
    That definitely could have had something to do with it and, at the very least, makes it more likely he’ll bounce back.

    RotoScoop,
    I agree that the defense has the potential to be better.

    I have to disagree to an extent about the HR/FB though.  The CAPS HR/FB rates listed take defense into account.  He showed much better rates in 2006 and 2007 (while pitching in Great American), and if I weight his HR/FB rates from 2004-2007 (using a 5/4/3/2 scheme), we get an 11.11% HR/FB, well below his 2008 figure and right around league average.

    Include 2008 and you’re still only up to 11.95%.  Regress that to the mean and I don’t think there’s any conclusion but that he was unlucky this year, even playing in Great American.

    I can see how it looks that way given the other Reds at the bottom, though.

  4. RotoScoop.com said...

    Regarding the HR/Fly issue, I was too lazy to look up historical data regarding those Reds hurlers in past seasons, but three in the bottom 10 in all of baseball last year jumped out at me. I see your point about how his past CAPS HR/FB were pretty normal (you said CAPS takes defense into account, I assume you meant home park). Pretty awesome stat you came up with. Anyway, I agree he was unlucky last year, but I wonder about park effects regarding HR/Fly rates.

  5. Derek Carty said...

    Ah, yeah, I meant CAPS takes park into account.  Good catch.  It uses a different factor each stat, so those CAPS HR/FB numbers for Harang use Great American Ballpark’s own unique HR/FB park factor.

  6. rpa said...

    saw harang on tv and in person probably about 20-25 times each of the last three seasons.  his slider seemed to be a lot more hittable than in the previous couple of seasonsand the fastball looked ok most of the time, in terms of how hitters were reacting to the pitches at the plate.

    also worth noting – harang came in to camp over the weekend 20-25 lbs lighter than last year, says he’s in better shape and is hoping to be more durable this season.

    that relief appearance against the padres probably messed up his 2008 more than any lack of conditioning did, but it seems that harang is ready to turn the page in any case.

    i hope he is, at least… he and troy tulowitzki did a real number on my fantasy team last year, to be sure.

  7. Donald Trump said...

    What do you think about Harangs workload?  It seems as though in both 2006 and 2006 he had very high pitch counts.  I wonder if that just caught up to him in 2008, although I did not take into account the short rest/relief pitching experiment.

  8. Derek Carty said...

    Donald Trump,
    I don’t completely buy into the notion that a high pitch count puts a pitcher at risk for fall-off or injury.  Every person and every pitcher is built differently and has a different physiology.  Some can handle big workloads, and I think the longer a pitcher shows he can handle it (in Harang’s case, it was three years), the lower the chances of a resultant fall-off.  It’s certainly possible this was the cause, though.

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