Aaron Harang Rumors

Free Agent Faceoff: Back Of Rotation Starters

With another quiet day turning into an even less eventful evening, I thought we’d spice things up with a look at a particularly interesting segment of the free agent market: innings-eating veteran starters.

Sure, I’m joking. Almost by definition, a back-of-the-rotation innings eater is not a very exciting pitcher. But, then again, perhaps there is something to the idea that this corner of the universe has more intrigue than it might seem at first glance.

Targeting top-end players is fairly straightforward, whereas figuring whether to pursue one or another back-end arm involves much more careful parsing to find value. The fact that most such pitchers sign for short-term deals means that clubs must be right on the player in the immediate term; there is no time to fix them for the future. And then there is the fact that the performance of these players matters a great deal; unlike a utility man or reliever, innings-eating arms are expected to occupy full-time roles. Racking up losses because your number 4 and 5 starters are not competitive is a great way to dig a hole in the standings.

The potential impact of this type of player is evidenced by the list of the best durable, veteran starters still available, several of whom played for contenders in 2014 and one of whom even pitched in the World Series. For better or worse, all of the players listed were allowed to throw at least 150 innings last year, creating plenty of opportunity to add or subtract value.

Kevin Correia: The results are not usually that exciting, but Correia has logged at least 100 innings in every season since 2007. He delivered an average of 178 innings of 4.19 ERA pitching over 2012-13 before suffering through a rough 2014.

Aaron Harang: Last year’s shining example of the importance of choosing your innings eaters carefully, Harang put up 204 1/3 frames with a 3.57 ERA. Sure, there’s a lot baked in there other than his pitching, but the bottom line is that Harang rated amongst the game’s fifty best starters in terms of preventing runs and among its 25 best in logging innings.

Roberto Hernandez: The results haven’t been there for Hernandez, and there is not much silver lining given that he has seen a steady decline in fastball velocity. But he is quite a steady groundball inducer, and showed enough that the Dodgers traded for him and gave him nine starts down the stretch.

Kyle Kendrick: At some point, 199 innings is 199 innings, and that’s what Kendrick delivered last season. He is also a fairly youthful 30 years of age, and is not far removed from producing serviceable results.

Ryan Vogelsong: Though his peripherals are somewhat less promising, Vogelsong has posted pretty darned useful bottom-line results in three of the past four seasons. And he had enough in the tank to run his fastball up to the mid-90s in the postseason.

Chris Young: ERA estimators view Young’s 3.65 earned run mark last year as a mirage, but then again he has always outperformed his peripherals. It had been quite some time since the towering righty had handled a full season in a rotation, but Seattle happily converted his 165 innings of work into a 12-9 record in 29 starts.

Before you vote on the player you think will be the best bet for 2015, you might want to check out these custom Fangraphs leaderboards for a sense of their recent statistical achievements: last yearlast three yearslast five years.


Phillies Notes: Outfield, Pitching

The big story of the day is the trade of Marlon Byrd. We learned earlier this evening about reactions and the Reds side of the story. Here’s more on how the Phillies will adapt to life post-Byrd:


Phillies Interested In Aaron Harang

The Phillies have shown interest in free agent righty Aaron Harang, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com tweets. The 36-year-old Harang has also lately been connected to the Braves and Rockies after a surprising comeback season in Atlanta in which he threw 204 1/3 innings with a 3.57 ERA, 7.1 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. Homer-happy Citizens Bank Park might not be the best place for Harang to continue that renaissance, however — his 37.8% fly ball rate in 2014 was his lowest since 2003, but he’s still a pronounced fly ball pitcher. Still, he could potentially provide the Phillies with a bit of stability in the back of their rotation.

In any case, Harang had to take a minor-league deal last offseason, but that won’t happen again this winter, despite his advanced age. MLBTR’s Zach Links predicted in October that Harang would receive a two-year, $14MM deal.



Rockies Notes: Harang, Johnson, Gee, Rosario

MLB.com’s Thomas Harding rounds up some of the names connected to Rockies’ offseason pitching search, including the new information that Colorado is interested in Josh Johnson and Aaron Harang.  Johnson may soon be off the board as he’s close to re-signing with San Diego, though Harang’s market has been pretty quiet this winter.  As Harding notes, the Rockies are looking for ground ball pitchers (such as Kevin Correia or Kyle Kendrick) who could handle the thin air of Coors Field, but Harang doesn’t fit that bill; the veteran righty only has a 38.2% grounder rate over his career.  The Rockies are still exploring trade possibilities and aren’t believed to have begun serious negotiations with any pitcher, Harding reports.

Here’s some more from the Mile High city…

  • One of those possible trades could involve the Mets’ Dillon Gee, though Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post (Twitter link) said talks are “on hold.”  Saunders thinks the two sides “were close” to a deal at one point.
  • Besides looking for pitching, the Wilin Rosario trade market has been the Rockies’ biggest offseason focus, ESPN’s Jerry Crsnick tweets.  American League teams are the “prime targets” for Rosario, as his long-term future may be at DH rather than catcher.
  • The Rockies want pitching back in any trade for Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez or Justin Morneau, though no deal involving any of the three stars is imminent, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi reports (via Twitter).  Colorado has discussed all three players in trade talks this offseason.

Braves Notes: Upton, Gattis, Harang, Hart

The Blue Jays, Brewers, Cubs and Indians are the four teams on Justin Upton‘s revised no-trade list, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi reports (via Twitter).  Upton’s contract allows him to block deals to four teams per year, and since his deal is up after the 2015 season, there have been whispers that Atlanta could explore trading Upton this winter.  One team notable by its absence on this year’s list is the Mariners; when Upton was with the Diamondbacks, he vetoed a deal that would’ve sent him to Seattle in January 2013.  Here’s some more from the Braves camp…

  • President of baseball operations John Hart denied a Joel Sherman report that the Braves were shopping Evan Gattis, calling it “absolutely inaccurate.”  Hart told the media (including David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) that “we are coming in with the idea that we don’t have to trade anybody.  We have not made a call (to see if a team is interested in any player). We have received calls on people; we haven’t had any conversations yet.”
  • Hart said the Braves will look to add starting pitching this winter, though they’ll look at the “B tier and down” rather than any of the big names on the free agent market.  If Atlanta did acquire a higher-caliber, it would likely be in a trade.  “Money could be freed up; there’s a lot of different dynamics there,” Hart said. “But from where we sit today, that would be the sort of level that we would be looking at.”
  • The Braves could be interested in re-signing Aaron Harang, though Hart said the team will wait to see how Harang’s market develops.  In a Free Agent Profile of Harang, MLBTR’s Zach Links predicted the veteran righty would find a two-year, $14MM deal this winter.

East Links: Santana, Sox, Cespedes, Phils, Mets

The Braves are expected to make a qualifying offer to Ervin Santana, reports David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In the event that Santana leaves, the team may pursue a top-of-the-rotation type of arm, O’Brien writes, but their lack of financial flexibility would make the trade market a more likely avenue than free agency. O’Brien adds that he finds it unlikely that Santana would accept the QO — a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. He also notes that should the club lose Santana, it might be more motivated to try to retain Aaron Harang, even though he is in line for a sizable raise from the $2MM he earned in 2014 (including incentives). MLBTR’s Zach Links recently profiled Harang, pegging him for a two-year, $14MM contract. Santana was also profiled by MLBTR, with Tim Dierkes projecting a four-year pact worth $56MM.

Elsewhere in baseball’s Eastern divisions…

  • The Red Sox are prioritizing Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley as the look toward the offseason, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The team may also look at Aramis Ramirez, though he’s not believed to be as coveted as Sandoval or Headley and is said to prefer a return to Milwaukee, per Heyman, who adds that the Yankees would like to re-sign Headley. Red Sox third basemen combined to hit just .245/.305/.351 in 2014.
  • Red Sox people strongly denied a previous report that Yoenis Cespedes is hated by the team’s coaching staff, Heyman writes in a second piece. One source called the report “totally untrue,” and manager John Farrell added on MLB Network Radio that the notion was “completely unfounded,” Heyman adds. He goes on to write that a trade of Cespedes is unlikely (though not impossible), given Boston’s overall need for power.
  • The Phillies announced today that their entire coaching staff has agreed to return to the club for the 2015 season.
  • Joel Sherman of the New York Post looks at the second round of changes coming to the dimensions of Citi Field and writes that the new dimensions may give some type of hint as to which players are most likely to be traded by the Mets this offseason. The Mets are planning to make Citi Field more homer-friendly and build the pitching staff around arms that emphasize strikeouts and ground-balls. Names like Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler fit that description, but Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee and, to a lesser extent, Rafael Montero are all more prone to fly-balls, making them more likely to be dealt.

Free Agent Profile: Aaron Harang

Last winter, veteran starter Aaron Harang hooked on with the Indians on a minor league deal and, at the time, he appeared to have a strong chance of being the fifth man in the Tribe’s rotation.  In March, when he was informed that he wouldn’t be a part of the Opening Day roster, Harang requested and secured his release.  That same day, he agreed to a big league deal with the Braves and he did not disappoint in Atlanta.  Now, the 36-year-old is hitting the open market once again and this time around he should only be fielding big league offers.

Strengths/Pros

Harang exceeded all expectations this season as he turned in a 3.57 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9.  A lot of pitchers tend to tail off around Harang’s age, but this past year ranks as one of his very best at the big league level.  His ERA was the lowest it has ever been (ditto for his identical 3.57 FIP) and his 204.1 innings of work stands as his highest total since 2007.  Ultimately, his $1MM deal proved to be one of the better free agent bargains of 2014.Aaron Harang (vertical)

The 36-year-old won’t be held back by a qualifying offer and there’s reason to believe he could continue to deliver a ton of innings for his next team.  Harang hasn’t been on the disabled list with an arm-related injury since 2008 and he can hardly be penalized for his late season emergency appendectomy in 2009.

Harang didn’t magically discover the fountain of youth or go on a hardcore Julio Franco-esque diet this past season.  Instead, as he explained to David Lee of The Augusta Chronicle late last month, he has become a craftier pitcher in recent years.

I threw a lot more four-seamers when I was younger,” Harang said. “I had a coach show me how to throw a two-seamer, and I started doing it, and every year it seems to be more effective. Once you get used to throwing it and realize how key that pitch can be, you make those adjustments.

Harang made a concerted effort to start throwing more two-seam fastballs in 2009.  As Lee notes, in 2008, when he threw 64 percent four-seamers and 8 percent two-seamers, he posted a 4.78 ERA and averaged 1.7 home runs per nine innings.  This season, it was much more balanced with Harang throwing 29% two-seamers and 30% four-seamers.  Harang’s pitch velocity has faded a bit in recent years, but thanks to a different approach on the mound, he has been able to adjust and age more gracefully than a lot of his contemporaries.

Weaknesses/Cons

While Harang’s 2014 performance was strong, his 2013 campaign didn’t go quite as smoothly.  At the start of the season, the Dodgers traded Harang to the Rockies for Ramon Hernandez before he was quickly DFA’d and flipped to the Mariners just days later.  After posting a 5.76 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 22 starts for Seattle, the M’s DFA’d him in August.  Harang finished out the year with the Mets, meaning that he had bounced between four clubs all within that year.  In total, Harang had a 5.40 ERA – a number his next club doesn’t want to see – with 7.1 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.  

This year, while his ERA was solid and his strikeout and walk rates were more or less consistent with his career average, some of the advanced metrics aren’t as crazy about his performance.  Both xFIP (4.03) and SIERA (4.18) feel that Harang’s ERA should have been a touch higher than 3.57.

Harang is putting less emphasis on his heater than he was earlier in his career, but it’s still hard to ignore his decreasing velocity.   Harang threw his fastball at an average of 88.8 MPH, his lowest average in the past eight years that it has been recorded by PITCHf/x.  If his velocity continues to lose steam, it’s fair to wonder whether his 6.4% HR/FB ratio from 2014 can be sustained.  For his career, Harang has a decidedly less sharp 10.2% HR/FB ratio.

Personal

Harang and his wife Jennifer have three children.  He knows how important fatherly wisdom can be as he attributes his 2,100+ innings of major league work to sage advice from his dad.

I would never teach a kid a breaking pitch until age 13,” Harang said, according to Anna McDonald of ESPN.com. “My dad wouldn’t show me one. He didn’t want [my elbow] to blow out. So I didn’t start throwing a curveball until I was 13 years old. I had the karate-chop one, where you just throw it and it spins up there. Your muscles aren’t developed enough, your ligaments aren’t developed enough to withstand it.

Harang, a San Diego native, told Dan Hayes (then of U-T San Diego) in 2010 that he prefers fish tacos to Skyline Chili, even though he has spent the bulk of his career in Cincinnati.  He also prefers The Simpsons to Family Guy, which is the right choice in my book.

Market

For his part, Harang told reporters, including MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, that he would be interested in pitching for Atlanta again.  The Braves undoubtedly appreciate his work this year, but they also know that they can’t retain him with another one-year, $1MM deal.  In theory, the Braves can trot out a starting five of Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, and Alex Wood.  However, Medlen and Beachy are recovering from Tommy John surgery with unknown return dates and it would certainly help to have a battle-tested veteran pitcher at the ready.

Still, he may not be in the budget in Atlanta and he may not take a discount to stay put since this could be his last sizable deal.  The Pirates are one team that could use a reasonably priced out-of-house addition to their rotation.  Harang may also find a match with teams like the Astros and Rockies if he’s not aiming for a likely contender.

Expected Contract

Last winter, Bronson Arroyo, also at the age of 36, secured a guaranteed $23.5MM over two years from the Diamondbacks with an $11MM club option.  Like Arroyo, Harang fits the profile of a durable innings eater who isn’t dependent on velocity for success and both had strong walk years before hitting the open market.  However, not all innings eaters are created equal: before Arroyo’s unfortunate UCL tear this season, he pitched 200 innings or more from 2005 through 2013, with the exception of a 199 inning total in 2011.  Also, Harang’s vagabond 2013 might hurt his case for big money.

We expect the Levinson brothers to readily bring up Arroyo’s name, but Harang probably won’t match his deal.  I predict Harang will land a two-year, $14MM deal this offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Braves Notes: Floyd, Harang, Gattis, Bethancourt

We’re still six weeks or so away from the non-waiver trade deadline, but trade discussions are beginning to pick up around the league. Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports (via Twitter) that the Braves are already receiving interest in their starting pitchers. While the Braves certainly aren’t sellers, they can afford to move Gavin Floyd or Aaron Harang due to the presence of Alex Wood in the minor leagues, Morosi points out. Many clubs have been linked to pitching on the trade market, including the Blue Jays, Yankees, Orioles, Angels, Red Sox, Giants and A’s. Some have also speculated that the Pirates will make a move for a starter after Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano both hit the disabled list.

Here’s more on the NL East’s division leaders…

  • Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes that the Braves have had internal discussions about moving Evan Gattis to left field and promoting Christian Bethancourt to serve as the everyday catcher. In that scenario, Justin Upton would shift to right field, Jason Heyward would slide over to center field and B.J. Upton would fall into a reserve role. As Bowman notes, Bethancourt has hit very well over the past month for Triple-A Gwinnett, and there’s never really been any concern over his defensive skills, which are very highly regarded.
  • David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, however, hears a different story entirely. O’Brien writes that multiple sources within the organization have told him there hasn’t been any discussion of moving Gattis to the outfield, as he’s more valuable behind the plate. A move to the outfield, where he isn’t comfortable playing (according to O’Brien) would weaken the outfield defense and diminish Gattis’ value. O’Brien goes on to write that the Braves may consider making the switch if they feel they have no choice in a pennant race, but for the time being, a switch isn’t likely.
  • There’s simply no sense in the Braves’ decision to keep Dan Uggla on the roster at this point, ESPN’s Buster Olney opined over the weekend (Twitter link). The current situation helps neither the team nor the player, and both sides would benefit from Uggla being waived, Olney continues.

AL Central Notes: Harang, Porcello, Hanrahan

The Indians had Aaron Harang in spring training this year, but released him due to an out clause in his contract, the Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes explains. Since then, Harang has pitched very well for the Braves (despite a nine-run outing against the Marlins earlier this week), and Carlos Carrasco has struggled in the Indians’ rotation. Hoynes argues, however, that Harang is more of an NL pitcher, and that he has benefited from the Braves’ defense, which is much better than Cleveland’s. Here are more notes from the AL Central.

  • Rick Porcello‘s improvements this season are legitimate, and it may be time for the Tigers to sign him to a long-term contract if they can, MLB.com’s Jason Beck writes. Through five starts, Porcello has a 5.50 K/BB ratio, thanks largely to a reduction in walks, and he’s getting lots of swings and misses. He’s also due to hit the free-agent market after next season, just before he turns 27. That could make him a valuable commodity indeed.
  • The Tigers’ bullpen is “a mess,” which was why Detroit was wise to give Joel Hanrahan a guaranteed deal this week, MLive.com’s James Schmehl writes. The Tigers sent Hanrahan to the disabled list upon signing him, since he’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery, and it’s unclear exactly when he’ll return. If he does, though, and he’s anything like he was in the past, he could help transform the Tigers’ struggling bullpen into a “dangerous” one, Schmehl argues.

East Notes: Henry, Pineda, Phils, Simmons, Harang

In an outstanding profile of Red Sox principal owner John Henry, Joshua Green of Bloomberg Businessweek writes that Henry “captures baseball’s current era” with his financial savvy and mathematical orientation. The full piece comes highly recommended, but a few particularly salient points are worth mention here. According to Henry, Boston’s disastrous 2012 season taught the organization “a lesson in ever-growing, long-term contracts with free agents.” An important element of the team’s turnaround, says Green, was Henry’s “ability to ignore sentiment” in making personnel decisions. Though Henry says “it’s gotten harder to spend money intelligently,” Green paints a picture of a man determined to do just that, precisely because of the challenge. In the immediate term, of course, the question is at what price the Sox deem staff ace Jon Lester a worthwhile investment. (The team has reportedly offered four years and $70MM.)

  • Of course, the major topic of conversation last night (and this morning) was the ejection of Yankees starter Michael Pineda for taking the hill with a generous application of pine tar on his neck. Pineda will almost certainly earn a suspension and miss at least one start; last year, Rays reliever Joel Peralta lost 8 games after he was caught with the substance. Of course, virtually every player, manager, front office official, and journalist to have commented on the incident has noted that it is widely accepted that pitchers utilize various kinds of grip-enhancing agents. As ESPN.com’s Buster Olney writes (Insider link), it is increasingly ridiculous to maintain a rule that is so rarely enforced and widely disregarded. His recommendation of a pre-approved substance (or, presumably, substances) that pitchers can utilize seems like a good starting point for considering a rule change; it makes little sense, in my view, to implicitly permit “cheating” so long as the pitcher is not “too obvious.”
  • The Phillies bullpen — particularly,  its grouping of right-handed set-up men — have been an unmitigated disaster thus far. Indeed, Philadelphia relievers currently sport a league-worst 5.64 ERA. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes, the club has already demoted three of its righties — B.J. Rosenberg, Brad Lincoln, and Justin De Fratus — and will now rely on a series of questionable arms (for different reasons) in Mike Adams, Jeff Manship, and Shawn Camp. Last August, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said that the pen would be an area of focus in the coming offseason, but the team did not spend there in free agency.
  • Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons has already established himself as a nearly incomparable defensive shortstop, writes Howard Megdal of Sports On Earth. Club manager Fredi Gonzalez said that it was premature to put his young, newly-extended whiz alongside The Wizard: the legendary Ozzie Smith maintained his defensive prowess for 19 seasons. But, as Megdal explains, Simmons’ early success puts him on that kind of trajectory, and better. With a seemingly greater offensive (and, possibly, defensive) ceiling than the Hall-of-Famer Smith, Simmons has both legitimate upside and a high floor.
  • While Atlanta obviously did well to identify starter Aaron Harang, who is off to an incredible start to the season for the Braves after being squeezed out of the Indians’ rotation mix, Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus explains that there are no analytical or scouting reasons to believe that Harang has re-invented himself at this late stage of his career. Ultimately, Harang has benefited from a low BABIP, high strand rate, and unsustainable level of success with runners in scoring position. Though his contributions to date should not be underestimated, says Lindbergh, there remains a good chance that the Braves will end up replacing Harang in the rotation before the season is out.