Mariners to Acquire Aaron Harang
I mentioned this as a pretty strong possibility yesterday, as Aaron Harang was hanging out in limbo after being DFA’d by the Rockies after they acquired him from the Dodgers in a cost savings maneuver. Harang was a pitcher without a team, and the Mariners are a team without good pitchers. The fit seemed fairly obvious. And so, today, Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Mariners and Rockies are working through a deal that will bring Aaron Harang to Seattle, in exchange for an unnamed minor league reliever. You shouldn’t expect it to be anyone special — Harang is basically a salary dump.
So why would two teams dump a Proven Veteran (TM) that threw 180 innings with a 3.61 ERA last year? Especially after he threw 170 innings with a 3.64 ERA the year before?
Well, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that ERA isn’t a very good way to evaluate pitching talent. And, so, while Harang has posted decent ERAs in pitcher friendly parks in the National League the last two years, the underlying data that projects his performance going forward is, well, not very good.
Here’s his career in a table of data that tells a more accurate story.
And here’s a graph of the two most important numbers in that table, and Harang’s career trend in those two rates:
Aaron Harang was once very good. He didn’t walk anyone and he struck a lot of guys out, so his HR problem wasn’t too big of an issue. But, then, in 2010, he stopped striking people out, and now he’s turned into a guy who nibbles at the corners of the strike zone. His walk rate is up, his strikeout rate is down, and his success the last two years was almost entirely due to low HR rates. His career HR/FB rate is 10.3%, but last year, it was 6.3%, which allowed him to put runners on but not let too many score.
Unfortunately, HR/FB rate isn’t particularly predictive, and is nowhere near as predictive as BB% and K%, both of which suggest that Harang isn’t particularly good anymore. Mixed in with Harang’s below average ground ball rate, that put his xFIP-, which is park adjusted and relative to league average, at 126 last year. That’s basically replacement level. For context, Blake Beavan‘s career xFIP- is 117.
Now, that’s just one year, and Harang has been much better than he was last year before, so there’s a pretty good chance that Harang is better than Beavan. But, don’t be fooled by the ERA. Harang isn’t good, which is why the Dodgers dumped him and the Rockies had no interest in keeping him. He’s an innings eater trying to hang on to the remains of his career. As a #5 starter, he might be okay for a while, but he’s certainly not any kind of salvation. He’ll be better than Beavan, most likely, but not particularly good. If Erasmo Ramirez ever gets healthy, then Harang will also have to be better than Brandon Maurer to stay in the rotation. Harang might be better than Maurer too, the kid can’t figure out how to get his breaking balls to stop hanging in the middle of the strike zone, so maybe Harang sticks around for a while.
But, Harang is basically a worse version of Jon Garland, the guy who the M’s let go a few weeks ago. It’s the same idea, just without the same ability to throw strikes. Hooray veteran mediocrity.
In terms of the trade, I’ll withhold judgment until we know the financial aspects of the deal. Harang’s contract includes a $2 million buyout for 2014, which the Dodgers got the Rockies to be on the hook for in the initial swap. Hopefully, the Mariners got the Rockies to chip in on part of that, or else this move will end up reducing their payroll next year so that they can pay Harang to not pitch for them.
Update: The M’s gave up RHP Steven Hensley, a fringe prospect at best, who started the year in Tacoma’s bullpen. Because he wasn’t on the 40 man roster, they had to create a spot for Aaron Harang, so Kameron Loe was designated for assignment. That strongly suggests that a starter will be moving into Loe’s long relief role, and it makes far more sense for that guy to be Beavan than Maurer, given their development paths.