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Free Agent Target: Aaron Harang

December 13, 2012

Yesterday, I began the Free Agent Target series with non-free-agent pitcher Chris Capuano. Today we continue that series with another non-free agent pitcher, but one whom I think the A’s should target before we get to real free agents. Maybe offseason target would have been a better name, but oh well, this is what we are stuck with care of me. As with yesterday’s pitcher, the Dodgers’ starting rotation has about seven MLB pitchers with course just five spots. They figure to trade one or both of Capuano or Aaron Harang and here is are some reasons why Oakland should, and why Oakland shouldn’t go after Harang.

Harang is a 34 year-old native of San Diego and graduate of San Diego State University. He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox out of high school in the 22nd round of the 1996 draft but did not sign and then was subsequently drafted out of SDSU by the Texas Rangers in the 6th round of the 1999 draft. After the 2000 season, Texas sent him packing to Oakland in exchange for Randy Velarde which is where he made his MLB debut in 2002. After one and a half nothing special seasons with the big league club in Oakland, Harang was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Jose Guillen in a deadline deal. It was with Cincinnati that Harang blossomed into a reliable starting pitcher including a fourth place finish in Cy Young balloting in 2007. From 2005-2007 in particular Harang was exceptional being worth 14.8 WAR across 677 2/3 innings with 7.9 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 while allowing 1.0 HR/9 posting a 3.77 ERA and 3.68 FIP. After that he scuttled a bit and in the next three seasons in Cincinnati put up a mediocre 4.9 WAR in 458 1/3 innings with 7.4 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 while allowing 1.5 HR/9 for a 4.71 ERA and 4.51 FIP. He spent a season in his hometown of San Diego with the Padres (3.64 ERA, 4.17 FIP) before spending last season with the Dodgers putting up a 3.61 ERA and 4.14 FIP in 179 2/3 innings of 6.6 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and 0.7 HR/9 baseball.

Harang is to be paid $7M in 2013. He has a mutual option for the 2014 season that varies based upon how many innings he will have pitched across the first two years of the deal. If he pitches 180 1/3 innings in 2013, his option is worth $7M and if he pitches as in excess of 220 1/3 innings in 2013 his option is worth $8M (202 1/3 innings earns him $7.5M).  The buyout on the option is $2M. Harang’s low 90s fastball nowadays sits high 80s (89.7 mph in 2012), he also mixes in a slider (probably his best pitch) and curve both of which have lost about a mile per hour each in the past season along with a changeup. He normally has good command though his 2012 campaign saw him post his highest BB/9 (4.3) since his rookie campaign in 2002 (5.2) and well above his career average (2.8).

Why Oakland Should Get Him

The A’s who have familiarity with Harang from way back when, need a real horse in their rotation and Harang is that having gone as many as 234 1/3 innings for the 2006 Reds. Harang is a slightly better than league-average innings eater type which is very valuable in baseball especially with a fragile rotation like what the A’s feature.

The tall right-handed Harang also is quite a fly ball pitcher. One can see how he benefited pitching in larger parks like San Diego and Los Angeles the past two seasons where his HR/FB% 9.4% in 2011 and then just 6.3% in 2012. Playing somewhere like the Coliseum would benefit him, though that can be said of many pitchers and it partially explains why he can escape danger with allowing a decent number of baserunners on. As an older pitcher, he gives the A’s some veteran leadership that can be beneficial to a very young staff.

Why Oakland Should Steer Clear

Harang is a league-average pitcher, but not much better than that. His career ERA+ is 101 and his career ERA- is 99. He earned 1.5 WAR in 2012, so if he kept up that pace with Oakland in 2013 at $7M he is not offering particularly stellar value and there may be more value on the open market.

His falling velocity could be a harbinger of bad things to come. In his final season with the Reds in 2010 Harang’s fastball clocked in at an average of 90.5 mph, which fell to 89.8 mph with San Diego in 2011, to 89.7 mph with Los Angeles last season. While not a rapid decline is a slow and steady progression in the wrong direction. Furthermore in those three seasons his changeup also gained speed going from 81.9 to 82.3 to 82.4 mph reducing that speed variation that makes it a more effective pitch perhaps explaining why in 2012 his swinging strike % of 7.6% represented a career low. Oakland doesn’t need to sign onto a pitcher with declining skills as one could argue they already have that with Bartolo Colon.

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