Prospect Retrospective: Aaron Harang
Per reader request, here is a Prospect Retrospective for major league veteran starter Aaron Harang.
Aaron Harang was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the sixth round in 1999, out of San Diego State University. His college stats were OK but nothing special: a 4.47 ERA in 109 innings, with a 101/47 K/BB and 116 hits allowed. However, I was somewhat impressed after seeing him pitch in person; he was a very tall guy with a good slider and good control. I picked him in my Minnesota Twins "Shadow Draft" that year, having one of those "gut feelings" that he was going to exceed expectations.
Harang went 9-2, 2.30 in 78 innings for Pulaski in the Appalachian League after signing, with an 87/17 K/BB ratio. Scouting reports said he was a college guy overpowering less experienced competition and he didn't get a lot of press. I gave him a Grade C in the 2000 book, with the following notation: "I need to see what he can do against better competition before giving him a high grade, though my instincts says he could develop into something interesting."
Moved up to High-A Charlotte in the Florida State League in 2000, Harang went 13-5, 3.32 with a 136/50 K/BB in 157 innings, allowing just 128 hits. I raised his grade to C+ in the 2001 book, and noted that "my instincts say that he will survive at higher levels, but I don't have anything empirical to back that up." There are many college-trained pitchers who do well in the Florida State League and then struggle at higher levels, but for some reason (and even today I'm not sure why), I thought Harang was going to make it.
Harang was traded to the Oakland Athletics for Randy Velarde before the 2001 season. He went 10-8, 4.14 with a 112/37 K/BB in 150 innings for Double-A Midland. It was a tough environment, but he did enough to warrant more chances. I dropped him back to Grade C due to the slippage in his strikeout rate, but warned that he was still capable of surprising. Scouting reports were rather blah at this point, though his control was respected.
Harang was brilliant in Double-A to begin 2002 (21/7 K/BB in 17 innings, 1.08 ERA), pitched well in Triple-A (3.26 ERA with 39/9 K/BB in 39 innings for Sacramento). Promoted to the majors, he ended up going 5-4, 4.83 with a 64/45 K/BB and 78 hits in 78 innings in 15 starts for the Athletics, losing rookie qualifications.
He was a bit less effective in 2003 and was traded to Cincinnati, ending up with a 5.31 ERA and a 42/19 K/BB in 76 innings. He had an adequate year in the Reds rotation in 2004 (4.86 ERA, 125/53 K/BB in 161 innings, 177 hits), improved in '05 (3.83 ERA, 112 ERA+, 163/51 K/BB in 212 innings), then dominated at times in both 2006 and 2007, exceeding 200 strikeouts both years. He threw a lot of pitches those years and it sapped him; he sagged in '08, '09, and ‘10 with health problems, but has since revived with a couple of decent campaigns for the Padres and Dodgers.
Overall, Harang has started 293 major league games, pitching 1802 innings with a 105-104 record, 1460/550 K/BB ratio, 1888 hits allowed, ERA+101. His career ERA is 4.19, his career FIP very close at 4.14. He has an overall WAR of 25.4, with his best seasons being 2006 (ERA+122, WAR 5.4), 2007 (ERA+124, WAR 5.2) and 2005 ( ERA+ 112, WAR 4.2).
Harang is the perfect representative of a slightly-better-than-average starting pitcher who can do something positive with decent support from his teammates and have some very good seasons. His list of comparable pitchers through age 34 all fit into that category as well:
His 25.4 career WAR puts him in range with solid historical pitchers like Pat Hentgen (25.8), Pat Dobson (25.6), Mike Caldwell (25.6), Dave Roberts (25.4), and Carl Pavano (25.4), who all had some very good seasons but fell short of true greatness.
As a prospect, Harang's minor league career was marked by sharp K/BB ratios. His strikeout rates went up and down, but he adjusted to better competition. I'm not sure why my intuition liked him so much, but in this case it worked out.
LESSONS LEARNED: If a pitcher throws strikes, he has something to build on. A tall pitcher who throws strikes should be watched closely. Gut instincts can pan out.