Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bargain bin shopping for the 2011 Nationals

Another year, another offseason of broken promises.

Life can be rough as a Nationals fan; the product is often bad, and hopes of an emergence into the national consciousness seems distant and unattainable.

Fear not loyal reader, for we here at FLOTN have scoured the 2010-2011 free agent market and have come up with a pitcher that will not only block the Luis Atilano’s and Garrett Mock’s of the world from ever pitching again as a National, but also drag the Nationals precious steps closer to the ever important appearance of respectability.

Much like a yard sale, free agency is filled with great bargains and lots and lots of junk. Like a skilled shopper, it is the job of the GM (Mike Rizzo) to sift through the clothes racks and record piles (FA list) and figure out what is worth spending money on (Starting Pitching projects), and what is shiny, but ultimately useless (Carlos Pena).

To make matters easier on Mike Rizzo, FLOTN has picked out the one diamond in the rough that could provide an enormous amount of return on the Nationals small investment. Like an old painting that just needs a new frame, this pitcher just need a little TLC, and he’ll be good as new.

For Love of the Nationals presents to you, Aaron Harang.

Harang, the 32 year old former ace of the Cincinnati Reds, had a terrible year in 2010. Harang saw a sharp rise in ERA, WHIP and BB’s and a decline in K’s. Basically, he looked nothing like the pitcher the Reds has seen for years and years. Having said that, Harang is exactly the type of pitcher the Nationals desperately need; a former ace with a chip on his shoulder who is in-line for a serious regression to the statistical norm.

In 2010, Harang saw a huge drop in two categories, Zone % (number of pitches, regardless of it being a strike or ball that were inside the strike zone) and LOB% (number of runners that were left on base, either by his own doing, or with help from the bullpen).

Pitchers lose command of the strike zone all the time, it happens, but in most cases it is correctable. That is what the Nats have to bank on if they take a chance with Harang. In 2010, Harang only managed to find the strike zone a miniscule 43.6% of the time, this, coming off a 2009 season where he found the strike zone 52.1% of the time. Compare the 43.6% with his career rate of 53.8% (including 2010) and you realize that 2010 is more of an aberration that anything. If the Nationals believe that Steve McCatty is worth his salt as a pitching coach, they should have no problem signing Harang on an incentive laden deal. Surely McCatty and Rizzo can see that Harang is throwing as hard as ever (90.5 in 2010 – 90.2 career) and still getting solid swinging strike rates (8.1% in 2010), and realize that the only thing that needs fixing is his once pinpoint control. While control was one problem Harang had in 2010, bad luck with runners on base was another.

Harang’s LOB% of 69.4% was the lowest of his career since 2003. In fact, since 2003, Harang never had a season where he didn’t strand at least 73% of the runners he allowed on base. To give some perspective, the average MLB strand rate in 2010 was 72.2%. Some of the runners scoring can be blamed on Harang, but just as much blame goes to the relievers brought in to put out any problems Harang started. In 2010, the Reds were ineffective, coming to the Nats; Harang would be dealing with a stout bullpen full of pitchers experienced in dealing with tight situations on a daily basis.

Now that his flaws are out in the open, let’s take a look at what makes Harang attractive, and clearly the best bargain of 2011.

To put it in simple terms, Harang misses bats; Nationals starting pitching does not. Since 2009, the Nationals have finished dead last in the NL in swinging strike percentage among starting pitchers. Finishing at 6.5% in 2009 and 6.7% in 2010 (Strasburg effect), Harang’s career mark of 9.7% (never lower than 8.1%) is a massive upgrade over the ‘pitch to contact’ pitchers that the Nationals employ 1-5 in their rotation. If the Nationals could snag a pitcher that actually helps the team on his own, and doesn’t rely on his fielders to do all the work, imagine the success he could have.

Aaron Harang, and to a lesser extent, Jordan Zimmermann, could be those guys.

So, there it is; sign Aaron Harang, call up Steve McCatty and get working on finding the strike zone. You get Harang’s accuracy in check; you get a bona fide ace. Simple as that.

If only finding bargains at yard sales were so easy.


  1. As usual, spot on. This is the kind of "bargain-bin" shopping I can live with.

  2. Signing ex-Reds is soooooo 2005-2008. Get with the times, dude.

  3. Well, Harang signed with the Padres today.

    I expect a big time bounce back year, next season.

    Back to the drawing board!