Harang Starting Strong


Now in his 14th MLB season, Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Harang has been proving here in the early weeks of the 2015 season that there is still something left in his 36-year-old right arm.

Harang was masterful again for the Fightins in his most recent start on Friday night, when he shut down his former team, the Atlanta Braves, at Citizens Bank Park. The San Diego native went eight strong innings, allowing just two hits and one walk, striking out six.

Harang also carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning on Friday night. Unfortunately, he earned a no-decision for the effort. The Phillies weren’t able to put a run across the plate until the bottom of the ninth, when Ben Revere’s walk-off infield single finally ended things.

Signing a one year, $5 million deal with the Phillies after spending last season in Atlanta, the Phils hoped that Harang could effectively eat some innings as they commenced their rebuilding process. The team had a couple of rotation spots to fill following the losses of Kyle Kendrick and A.J. Burnett in free agency.

While expectations may not have been high for Harang and the Phillies coming into the 2015 season, the big righty has dominated on the mound in his four starts in red pinstripes. After struggling during spring training with a back injury, he currently holds a 2-1 record with a 1.37 ERA in the early stages of the regular season.

If you’re not a guy who can go up and blow everybody away, movement is a key factor. It’s locating and movement, then velocity.” ~ Harang

His lone loss came on April 18th against the Washington Nationals, when he allowed three runs in six innings of work. In his four outings, Harang has struck out 21 batters and walked only six. His 0.80 WHIP currently ranks him eighth in all of Major League Baseball.

Harang is no stranger to strong starts to a season. He began the 2014 campaign with five straight quality starts, surrendering only three earned runs while striking out 33 batters over those five outings.

Harang’s early 2014 success didn’t continue throughout the entire season, as he ended up with a 12-12 record and a 3.57 ERA over 33 starts. Still, Harang was a workhorse for the Braves, tossing 204.1 innings. Harang has been a dependable starter for the eight teams he has played for in his career, throwing over 170 innings seven times, including four seasons of over 200 innings.

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Harang has become somewhat of a journeyman in recent years. After being drafted by the Texas Rangers in the sixth round of the 1999 MLB draft, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics, with whom he would make his MLB debut in 2002. After just over one season with the Athletics, he was then again shipped off to the Cincinnati Reds.

Harang would pitch for the Reds for eight seasons, his most successful being 2006 and 2007. In 2006, Harang led the National League in wins (16), strikeouts (216), and complete games (6). For the year, Harang went 16-11 with a 3.76 ERA over 234.1 innings. His 2007 was even better, as Harang went 16-6 with a 3.73 ERA in 231.2 innings, coming in fourth for the National League Cy Young Award voting.

Harang’s next few seasons in Cincinnati were less than stellar. He recorded a 4.71 ERA over those 2008-2010 seasons, in which he went a collective 18-38. After the 2010 season which saw him left off the Reds playoff roster against the Phils, management bought out the final year of his four year, $36.5 million contract extension signed with the team in 2007.

Harang signed with the San Diego Padres for the 2011 season and recaptured some of his early career success. With the Padres, Harang pitched to a 14-7 record and 3.64 ERA. But even with his impressive season, the team declined to pick up his 2012 option. Harang has bounced around ever since, working in the starting rotations of the Dodgers, Mariners, Mets, Braves, and now Phillies.

Much of Harang’s recent success with the Braves and Phillies came from an increased ability to locate his pitches and avoid walks. He doesn’t overpower hitters – his fastball sits in the high 80s, and according to FanGraphs, he is using his four-seamer less than he did earlier in his career. His slider and cutter have been very effective thus far. Harang relies on them as well as his two-seam fastball, which moves like a sinker, to keep hitters off balance.

Last season with the Braves, Harang talked about the importance of having pitches that move, but that you can also locate. “Movement is a big deal. If you’re not a guy who can go up and blow everybody away, movement is a key factor. It’s locating and movement, then velocity,” Harang said.

It’s tough to see Harang sustaining this level of success throughout the 2015 season. As pointed out earlier, Harang’s solid start with the Braves in 2014 didn’t last for long, and there’s no reason to believe it will last this year either. Harang has a mediocre career ERA of 4.18, and it’s not realistic to expect the Phillies offense to provide much run support with the lineups they run out every day.

If Harang does manage to extand his success deeper into the season, the Phillies could take a couple different routes with the righty.

First, if Harang is interested in a return to Philly next year, for the right price, it may be beneficial to bring him back, allowing the club to continue grooming it’s young arms. David Buchanan, still just 25, is currently in the rotation. Severino Gonzalez is making his MLB debut this week. Aaron Nola will likely be joining the team at some point this season.

The Phillies have a plethora of young arms in the minors that could be called up, especially if Cole Hamels is moved before the trade deadline. Harang could offer some of his experience and insight to these inexperienced hurlers if he were to stay around.

If the Phils think they can get some value in return, Harang could be traded to a team trying to make a run at the playoffs. It is a certaintly that a few teams will find that they are in need of starting pitching, and were his performances to remain strong, could possibly bring back a prospect or two. The Phillies may need to take whatever they can get if a reasonable offer is made for Harang.

So far, Harang has been the best pitcher in the rotation based on performance this season. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out for him, and how the Phillies choose to handle his situation. Right now, Harang is one of the few bright spots on a struggling team.