Player profile: Aaron Harang

I got a request about a week ago for Aaron Harang, and I’m happy to oblige. Harang has flown under the radar a bit for the past couple of years despite very good peripheral numbers. I’m thinking the fantasy world is beginning to catch on, maybe taking away some of Harang’s 2008 value, but I’m sure in some leagues he’ll still come at a decent price relative to his value. Let’s check him out.

Numbers

YEARAGELASTFIRSTTEAMLGGGSIPERALIPS ERAWHIPDIPS WHIPK/9BB/9K/BBxGB%LOB%BABIPHR/FBLD%
200425HarangAaronRedsNL2828161.04.863.961.431.356.992.962.3641.9374.520.31313.2718.60
200526HarangAaronRedsNL3232211.73.833.411.271.216.932.173.2040.2275.860.3118.8421.05
200627HarangAaronRedsNL3635234.33.763.691.271.178.302.153.8639.5877.960.32610.5320.62
200728HarangAaronRedsNL3434231.73.733.601.141.158.472.024.1939.3675.710.29210.1817.61
07-1H28HarangAaronRedsNL1919127.73.673.851.181.237.902.473.2040.1173.970.2877.1417.41
07-2H29HarangAaronRedsNL1515104.03.813.291.101.059.171.476.2438.3878.330.30014.0517.87

Right off the bat we see an excellent LIPS ERA trend going on. He has had a LIPS ERA better than 4.00 in each of the past four seasons. His DIPS WHIP has improved each year, culminating in a 1.15 mark in 2007. His strikeout rate hovered just below 7.00 in 2004 and 2005 and made the jump above 8.00 in 2006 and 2007. His K/BB has grown each of the four years.

The best part of all this? Harang is a workhorse. He’s thrown over 200 innings for the past three years, and has been over 230 for the past two years. He’s past the part of his career where this type of thing would be a serious red flag for injury, but he’s not yet past his prime. He seems to be as safe a bet to not get injured as a pitcher can be. Honestly, what’s not to like about Harang?

2007 season

Harang continued to get better in 2007, improving his LIPS ERA from 3.69 in 2006 to 3.60 in 2007. Both his strikeout and walk rates improved. If we look at the second-half of the season, he was nothing short of dominant. His K/9 went above 9.00, and his BB/9 went below 1.50.

His first-half is probably the only thing you could complain about. His strikeout and walk rates were below their 2006 levels, but his K/BB was still a very nice 3.20, and his LIPS ERA was a solid 3.85.

I think the biggest knock against Harang is what he can’t control… his defense.

2007 Reds defense

The Reds defense was pretty poor in 2007. Take a look.

TEAM+/-RKRZRRKOOZRKIF RZRRKIF OOZRKOF RZRRKOF OOZRKBABIP
Reds 15 9 0.798 15 369 11 0.786 6 200 7 0.873 10 193 4 0.318

They were the second worst team in the National League in RZR, and their range (OOZ) was less than impressive. Let’s look at the individual players and see if we can find a bright spot or two.

POSLASTFIRSTINNINGSRZRLG AVGOOZOOZ/(BIZ+OOZ)LG AVG
1BHattebergScott7720.6750.741120.0930.135
1BConineJeff4310.6880.741100.0910.135
2BPhillipsBrandon13710.8630.830490.1230.104
SSGonzalezAlex8720.8620.816320.1150.128
SSKeppingerJeff S3900.8450.816110.0870.128
3BEncarnacionEdwin11680.6000.680390.1240.139
LFDunnAdam11890.8260.855310.1070.147
CFHamiltonJosh H5550.8980.888180.0970.137
CFFreelRyan4440.8240.888330.2090.137
CFHopperNorris S4080.8980.888180.1230.137
RFGriffey Jr.Ken11630.8800.877280.0860.141

The middle of the infield looked pretty good in 2007. Brandon Phillips played excellent defense — both in and out-of-zone — at second, and Alex Gonzalez looked good at short. The corners left much to be desired, though.

In the outfield, the corners were a problem too. Ken Griffey Jr. was right around league average in-zone but wasn’t very good leaving the zone, and Adam Dunn struggled in both areas. Centerfield had an interesting mix. Josh Hamilton was good in-zone but didn’t have great range, Ryan Freel wasn’t great in-zone but had amazing range, and Norris Hopper was good in-zone and had relatively average range.

Overall, it looks like the Reds did have some bright spots, but traded defense for offense in a lot of spots (which isn’t bad strategy, it just doesn’t help Harang in any category except wins).

2008 defensive outlook

The defense doesn’t seem too likely to improve in 2008. Joey Votto will probably take over at first, but we don’t have a lot to judge him on. Scouts say his defense is average, or a work in progress. Regardless, he has the potential to be better than Scott Hatteberg and Jeff Conine. He’s a converted catcher — though surprisingly athletic — so he figures to improve with experience.

The rest of the defense doesn’t figure to change, though. They could seek out a new shortstop or consider trading Griffey, but I don’t see any holes that desperately need filling. If Griffey is traded, we could see Hamilton shift over to right, which might even be an improvement.

Because of the relative stability of the Reds defense, we’ll likely see Harang’s BABIP rise. It wasn’t much below average this year, though, so the correction won’t be too severe.

The Dusty Baker effect

I’m sure many of you are concerned about the recent hiring of Dusty Baker. Baker has a reputation of riding his pitchers pretty hard, which is generally associated with injuries. David Gassko penned an interesting article last year that seems to disprove this notion. David found that “[Baker] only leaves his starters out there for about three-and-a-half more pitches than expected.” This doesn’t scream overuse to me.

Even if you’re not convinced, consider how many innings Harang threw in 2006 and 2007. How many more innings would you really expect a madman, like fictionalized-Dusty, to force Harang to throw? You think he’s pushing him up around 250? I don’t.

2008 outlook

Harang looks like a very good bet in 2008. I think an 8.50 K/9 and a 2.05 BB/9 seem about right. He’s more of a fly ball pitcher, but he should still be able to post an ERA around 3.60 and a WHIP around 1.15, similar to this year. He could certainly do better if he leans more towards his 2007 second-half numbers, but I wouldn’t call that the most likely scenario.

As we’ve said, he seems like a pretty safe bet injury-wise, and the high number of innings coupled with his nice strikeout rate should give him plenty of value in the strikeout category.

He should also help out with wins too. He starts plenty of games and has a decent offense supporting him. His total of 16 from 2007 seems repeatable.

Concluding thoughts

I think there is a definite chance Harang could crack my top 10 list of starting pitchers for 2008, although I can’t say with any certainty until I project everyone. CBS has him ranked #13, so there might not be a lot of wiggle room to get solid value out of him. We’ll have to see how his market value adjusts as we get closer to the season, but I think Harang is bound to fall to at least #20 in some weaker leagues.

In drafts and auctions, we’ll probably have to take a wait-and-see approach with him. He could become overvalued, or he could be undervalued. There is unlikely to be a consensus with a guy like Harang, so be flexible with your plan, and if the opportunity presents itself, you could get nice value out of him.

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