Why Teams Should Be Trading for Aaron Harang Right Now
Aaron Harang did it again. The real question is, just how is he doing it?
The Philadelphia Phillies' veteran right-hander pitched eight scoreless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday afternoon, giving up five hits and one walk along with six strikeouts. The 37-year-old labored through a 27-pitch first inning before putting on cruise control to last another seven in the Phils' 4-2 win.
With the victory, Harang is now 3-2 on the season with an ERA of 2.03, sixth best in the National League. Among qualified National Leaguers, his ERA is better than Matt Harvey, Johnny Cueto, Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner, and his more celebrated teammate, Cole Hamels. His 53.1 innings pitched leads the NL, and lest you think his ERA is not representative of how he's really pitched, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) coming into the game was 2.94.
And Harang is really making his money (more on that in a minute) at home, with a 0.61 ERA at Citizens Bank Park, the best ERA through four home starts by a Phillie since Tom Underwood's 0.52 ERA at Veterans Stadium in 1975.
But here's the thing. Harang has been doing this for more than a year now.
Last year, we all talked about Harang's numbers with the Atlanta Braves and kept saying that, eventually, he would revert back to the 5.40 ERA he put up with two teams in 2013. But it never happened, as Harang posted a 3.57 ERA with an identical 3.57 FIP and a 12-12 record with Atlanta. And yet, during the offseason, no one seemed to want him as a free agent except the Phils, who signed him to the bargain basement price of $5 million for one year.
For all you Ruben Amaro critics, you have to give him this one. He got an All-Star starter for pennies on the dollar.
What's fascinating is that, in combing through his numbers, he's not really doing much differently this year than he did last year, or even during his career as a whole.
As you can see from the above table, his line drive rate isn't noticeably different from last year or his career numbers, although it does appears he's exchanged some ground balls for fly balls this year. But that's been okay, because his home run per fly ball rate is at an all-time low of 3.1%, which means he's done a terrific job at keeping the ball in the yard. He's only allowed two home runs so far this season, compared to 15 last year and 26 the year before.
But it's not as if Harang has come up with a new pitch or discovered some new velocity. His fastball continues to average 89 miles per hour, and he's throwing all of his pitches with almost the exact same frequency as he always has. He's just doing a terrific job hitting his spots while holding batters to a .218 batting average coming into Thursday's start.
For most of the last six months, the Phillies pitcher heard most in trade rumors has been Cole Hamels, and for good reason. He's a true ace pitcher and would immediately make any rotation he joins immensely better. But Harang's start to 2015 should have pitching-needy teams like Boston, Toronto, New York, Kansas City, Baltimore, Houston, Chicago and San Diego all making inquiries into his availability.
And if Amaro is smart, he's making him very available right now. He's cheap (now owed less than the $5 million he signed for this offseason) and wouldn't require the same kind of prospect needed to get a pitcher like Hamels or Cueto. But teams interested should be making offers now in order to get as many innings of an effective Harang under their belts as possible.
Don't be surprised if he ends up being the first big-name pitcher dealt this season, and don't be surprised if it happens sooner rather than later.