The Mariners traded right-handed reliever Steven Hensley and some cash to acquire Aaron Harang from the Colorado Rockies. Harang is a 34 year old who has started 293 games in the Majors. He never actually pitched for the Rockies, as they traded for him from the Dodgers, but immediately designated for assignment.
From 2010-2012 (he hasn’t pitched yet this year) he had a -2.1 WAA, mainly because of an awful last season with the Reds. The Reds have a very hitter friendly ballpark and Harang really struggled with homers that year. I don’t have batted ball factors for the Reds park but Harang’s average batted ball given up was 264.88 feet in 2010. In 2011, in his bounce back year at Petco, his average batted ball given up was 259.814 and 262.135 in 2012 with the Dodgers. Maybe the ball carries more in Cincinnati, or maybe he just pitched better from 2011 to 2012. For what it is worth, and maybe not a whole lot, K/BB says he has not pitched better, getting worse actually (which one would expect from a 34 year old).
Of course, Pitch F/X can tell us a lot more about Harang than numbers can, especially the basic numbers. Since 2011, Harang has thrown 6305 pitches in Pitch F/X ballparks (when you count a few Spring Training outings). This is the data we will look at this post.
Let’s start by looking at Harang’s release point:
As you can see, that is a high release point. Here is Harang’s release point compared to other Mariners:
He becomes the highest release point right-handed Mariner. This size gets him on top of the ball pretty well, giving him good plane, and should allow him to be a little more consistent and a body that limits injury. However, you will notice that the release point above is terribly inconsistent horizontally. I thought this just meant he had changed his spot on the rubber at sometime or changed his delivery, but this doesn’t seem to be the case as he has this difference from game to game. I then thought that maybe it had to do with platoon splits, as maybe he was one of those pitchers that moves on the rubber depending on what kind of hitter is up at the plate, but the data doesn’t seem to support that either. It also doesn’t seem to have to do with pitch type either, and he doesn’t have a high walk rate or a long recent injury history, so I think it means nothing honestly. I just wonder why he does it.
As far as pitches go, here is Harang’s Spin Graph, which I think helps us with pitch classification:
Of course, the first question that arises from the graph is why do some sliders and curves spin? And which are better? The majority of pitchers, though there are exceptions, do not have much spin on their curveballs or sliders.
I count 453 curves than spun less than 100 degrees and 73 curves that spun over 300 degrees. Here are where the non spin curves were located:
Here are where the spin curves were located:
It is hard to see much of a difference there except non spin curves seemed to get low and away from righties more than then spin curves, while the well located spin curves were more likely to be just down and not down and away. Both pitches stay more arm side than glove side for Harang. As far as actual results go, just one of the spin curves have been turned into a run scoring play, while 6 of the pitches were swinging strikes. It is a smaller sample size, but compare this to the non-spin curves have a 24 to 7 ratio. So it seems that the spinning curves are actually better. The pitches get a little bit different movement as well:
Non spin curves:
So the non-spin curve gets a touch better vertical movement and much better horizontal movement, which would suggest that this is the better pitch and the results are mainly just noise. I wanted to see if he throws the different curves on purpose, if there was a specific count he threw them in. He throws the non spin curves with an average of .8 strikes in the count and the spin curves with .75 strikes in the count for the non-spin curves, which is completely unhelpful. It didn’t appear that this was a Pitch F/X error, as he threw both pitches in multiple parks. The spin curves are thrown at an average 74.96 MPH, while the average non-spin curve was thrown at 74.99 MPH, so it has nothing to do with speed. On average, his non-spin curve was released very slightly lower and a little bit closer to his body than his spinning curve. While it might be a reach, this may be where the different movement and spin comes from.
We have already talked too much about the curveball, especially since he throws his just 8.88% of the time. Harang throws a lot of (36.1 percent of the time) what is classified as moving fastballs at an average of 90.09 MPH. His 4-seamer averages just barely higher, at 90.27 MPH. He throws some kind of fastball 63.4 percent of the time. For comparison, here is a graph of how Harang’s fastballs compare to the Mariners’ rotation’s fastballs. I used Harang’s data versus each of the Mariners’ starters last start (For Felix I used Brooks Baseball’s classifications because MLBAM has confused his fastball and changeup).
As you can see, the Mariners’ (22nd in starting pitcher fastball velocity) don’t have a hard throwing staff and Harang fits right in there. His fastball doesn’t get much horizontal movement comparatively, but gets good vertical movement. He also uses his fastballs more than everyone in the rotation other than Saunders’ in his last start. While his fastball is not as bad as Saunders’, one wonders why Harang uses his fastball so much when it seems to be a tick below average once you consider handness, velocity, and movement. Like most pitchers, Harang also throws a slider and a changeup.
Harang’s slider averages 82.48 MPH, in the bottom 30 percent of right-handed starter sliders. It is a pitch he can throw for a strike though, almost 68 % of the time (which would actually seem too high). It also isn’t as effective as the curve, even though he throws it more, as 40 of them (in our sample that we have been looking at) have been hit for runs versus 207 whiffs.
Harang’s change is even less effective. He throws it for strikes just 53 percent of the time, with 6 hit for runs and 18 for swings and misses. It is not a big part of his pitch selection, throwing it just 5.6 percent of the time. He also doesn’t throw it very hard, at 82.6 MPH on average, indistinguishable from the slider velocity wise.
If one were talking about Harang as a pitching prospect, we would note that he has no plus pitches. His fastball is below average and he doesn’t have a big swing and miss pitch. Because of this, he doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts and usually struggles with home runs (as evidenced by the poor end to his Reds career). One quickly asks if Harang is an upgrade from Jon Garland, who the Mariners let walk in spring training to allow Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer to round out the rotation. It is perhaps convenient that the Mariners got Harang from the Rockies, who signed Garland after he left the Mariners. The Rockies traded for Harang, but had no interest in placing him in the rotation over Garland. The Mariners let Garland walk for free, because they didn’t want to commit him to the rotation, but here we are less than two weeks into the season, one home series into the season, and the Mariners trade for a pitcher that the Rockies clearly think is worse than Garland. Note, we must make some qualifiers. When looking at the Rockies, every move they make has to be interpreted in the context of Coors Field and the crazy Park Factors that come with playing in Colorado. The Rockies may not be saying that Garland is better than Harang in a vacuum, but perhaps that Garland is a better fit than Harang in the ballpark. While Garland doesn’t “miss bats”, the groundball rate certainly points to this being the case. Also, we have to take in account the Rockies front office. The front office is in a weird state of flux right now, with Dan O’Dowd not the GM and basically still the GM at the same time. Also, and this is a meta-narrative, the Rockies off-season before the 2012 was pretty historically poor. The team made a laundry list of mistakes, trading for a bunch of mediocre fly-ball pitchers and watching those pitchers go down in a ball of flames, their lineup suffer from losing those traded hitters, and eventually going to a terrible pitching plan. After losing over 90 games, the team then traded for a veteran reliever, giving up a young starter and a minor leaguer. Even if the Rockies’ front office came out and said that even in a vacuum, Garland is better than Harang, we would have no reason to believe that they are right. They have been wrong quite a bit. The acquisition of Harang in the first place happened because they thought that signing Ramon Hernandez and starting Wilin Rosario would be a good plan at catcher and make Chris Iannetta expendable. They traded Iannetta for Tyler Chatwood, who has been awful as a Rockie, while Rosario proved to be some kind of poor man’s Jesus Montero, some raw power, but no on base skills, and unable to really play catcher defensively. Ramon Hernandez proved to be old and ineffective as a backup and Yorvit Torrealba, a catcher that played for 3 different teams last year, was a better option as a MiLB deal. Also, the Hernandez-Harang trade, and flipping Harang to to the Mariners, saved the Rockies 2.5 million dollars. If they started Harang over Garland, they don’t save that money. So I don’t think that we should read too much into the Rockies choosing Garland over Harang. That doesn’t mean the Mariners didn’t make a mistake.
Luckily for the Mariners front office, it wasn’t a big mistake, especially if Harang could just outperform Beavan. Steven Hensley is not much a loss. He is 26 and had no path to the big leagues with the Mariners. In fact, the Rockies sent him to AA. He has a below average right-handed fastball out of the bullpen without a real plus breaking ball (relying mainly on the slider).