Game 86, Mariners at Reds
Aaron Harang vs. Mike Leake, 4:10pm
Aaron Harang was once a near-elite pitcher for Cininnati, averaging nearly 5 fWAR per year in his three-season peak from 2005-07, but a combination of health and aging has left that peak an isolated, sort of bizarre outlier in a journeman-type career. He topped 2 WAR only once outside of those three years, and while he hasn’t exactly been awful, his status as the cream of the DFA crop is sort of understandable at this point. It’s the sort of precipitous drop that cries out for an explanation – why did a guy throwing 230IP per year and averaging about 5 WAR suddenly turn into a 1-2 WAR #5 starter? Harang himself points to a four-inning relief appearance midway through his 2008 campaign as the major turning point. Indeed, he’d been pitching decently through late May ’08 when he pitched the 9th-12th in a game against San Diego, but he faded badly the rest of the season, struggling with a HR problem that became an unwanted calling card for him.
Cininnati’s Great American Ballpark is a great hitter’s park, with insane HR factors according to Statcorner (look at the RHB factor!), but the fly-balling Harang had fought his home park to a draw during his peak. In only one season though (2006) did he post really noticeable home/road power splits. Even after his homer problem started in earnest in late May of 2008, it wasn’t something linked to GABC – he gave them up everywhere. His opponent today, Mike Leake, stands in stark contrast to Harang’s ecumenical spirit.
Leake’s got a great ERA this year, and as Eno Sarris noted, it’s not that he’s been incredibly lucky. He’s running a normal-ish BABIP, and while his K% and BB% are very close to career averages, they’re both slightly improved. The big difference is in his HR rate. Even though he’s a slight ground ball pitcher, Leake’s struggled with HRs in the past – his HR/9IP is far and away a career best, and is actually half what it was in 2012. Not surprisingly perhaps, his home park isn’t driving that change. He’s still giving up homers at home, but his road HR/FB and HRs allowed have fallen dramatically.
Is it sustainable? I’d tend to doubt it, but that’s sort of the sabermetric stock answer, isn’t it? Scott Weber and Sarris both note that he’s got a slightly different pitch mix this year, using more change-ups/curves and less sliders. That’s a possible driver of an improved HR rate, but there are two problems there. First, a chunk of the difference probably’s due to the batters he’s faced. In 2011, he faced more right-handers than left-handers (362-331), so it’s not surprising that he threw more sliders overall. This year, he’s facing more left-handed hitters (222-200), and so it makes sense he’d throw fewer sliders and more changes. That doesn’t explain 2012, but maybe he’s a slow learner. Second, it would help the theory if his slider was a particularly bad pitch for HRs – it’s not. He’s given up HRs on 3.8% of at-bats ending with a slider and 4.9% of at-bats ending on a change (again, this makes total sense when you remember what hand the batters in these ABs presumably hit with), and 3.7% of at-bats ending with a curve. That plus his fairly normal HR/FB at home lead me to think that his true-talent HR rate is pretty much where it’s always been – his command is still excellent, but when he makes a mistake, hitters have been able to punish him.
Interesting line-up today:
1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Ibanez, LF
4: Morales, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Zunino, C
7: Saunders, rF
8: Ackley, CF
The M’s get an extra lefty bat with Saunders in right in lieu of Bay, I suppose. It also helps the M’s rest the aging, Yuni-destroyed legs of Endy Chavez, which is among the many things I never thought I’d be writing this season.
I mentioned Scott’s article above, which reminded me: Scott Weber, Patrick Dubuque et al have been doing great work at Lookout Landing of late. Completely different place than it was when Jeff/Matthew ran it, which is to be expected, but good stuff.
Good day in the minor league system with Erasmo Ramirez making a start in Salt Lake, Victor Sanchez pitching at home for Clinton, and Thyago Vieira pitching for Everett.