2015 Phillies Report Card: Aaron Harang
Seventy-eight starting pitchers threw enough innings in 2015 to qualify for the MLB ERA title, from Yordano Ventura and Erasmo Ramirez, squeaking in with 163.1 innings, to Clayton Kershaw, leading the league with 232.2 innings. Only one of those 78 finished the season with the Philadelphia Phillies, and it wasn’t Cole Hamels, who was traded to the Texas Rangers in a franchise-altering deadline deal. Let’s talk about Aaron Harang.
He led all Phillies hurlers in innings pitched (172.1), games started (29), and batters faced (748), and allowed the most hits (189), runs (100), earned runs (93), homers (26), and walks (51). Among those aforementioned 78 starters, Harang was 74th with 0.8 fWAR. Now, WAR isn’t an infallible statistic that explains everything about a player, but it does provide helpful context for comparing players. In this case, Harang was good enough to pitch the requisite number of innings, but finished among the bottom five in fWAR, ERA (74th), ERA- (77th), FIP (78th), xFIP (77th), SIERA (77th), and K% (74th). Somewhat admirably, he ate the innings the Phillies paid him to eat when they signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal last winter.
Should my @CrashburnAlley Aaron Harang report card be:
— Adam (@adamd243) November 2, 2015
As discussed, Hamels was traded to the Rangers, which is the team that drafted Harang in the 6th round of the ’99 draft (nice). Harang was drafted after playing at San Diego State University, in the same town where he grew up and went to high school. He actually played one season in San Diego for the Padres, after his Cincinnati days ended, and in that 2011 season Harang surrendered 69 earned runs (oh nice). For his career, Harang has a z-swing rate (the percentage of pitches opposing hitters swing at inside the strike zone) of 69.0% (lol). In 2015, Harang stranded 69.7% of runners who reached base against him (not that nice). As a hitter, Harang — who has played most of his 14-year career in the National League — has 69 sacrifice hits in his career, nice enough for 10th among all active players. Bottom line, Aaron Harang is probably a really nice guy.
Getting back to his performance in 2015, Harang pitched well in 16 starts before July 1, logging an unexpectedly good 3.56 ERA. Unfortunately, he gave up eight earned runs and 14 hits in a home loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on July 1, after which he went on the disabled list with a case of plantar fasciitis. After his return on July 30, Harang performed poorly, registering a 6.11 ERA in 12 starts to finish the season with a 4.86 ERA. So, exactly how much punishment does a pitcher have to endure to average about five earned runs per nine innings? This Brooks Baseball chart shows the slugging percentage of batters facing Harang this past season. As shown, he got knocked around in almost every part of the strike zone. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s worth looking at just to hammer home how much damage Harang allowed. Part of being the worst team in baseball is giving up a lot of runs, and bless him, Harang gave up 12% of all runs scored against the Phillies in 2015 while pitching 12% of the innings. By contrast, as a Phillie Cole Hamels gave up 53 runs (6.6%) in 128.2 innings (9%).
Aaron Harang is a free agent again, and he may retire, but either way he won’t be back with the Phillies in 2016. If he suits up next season, after playing 14 seasons with the A’s, Reds, Padres, Dodgers, Mariners, Mets, Braves, and Phillies, Harang — who throws six pitches — will probably be wearing the ninth uniform of his career. He performed poorly overall in 2015, and his injury eliminated any chance the Phillies could trade him for a lottery ticket at the trade deadline. On the other hand, he stuck around long enough to eat a lot of innings. There’s a possibility the Phillies will sign a free agent veteran to soak up innings in 2016, but whoever he is, he won’t have this face.