I entered 2015 firmly fastened into the front seat on the Aaron Harang hype train. The dude wouldn't have been in the league in 2014 if the Atlanta Braves pitching staff didn't decide getting Tommy John surgery together was a good macho baseball-y substitute for a day at the spa. Fortunately for both parties, Aaron was Haranging around and the Braves Harang.
One would expect that a player who was nearly forced into retirement because no team wanted him would be not good when suddenly called on to face major league competition. But Harang was actually decent. Good, even. In 204.1 innings, Harang had a 3.57 ERA which was no better or worse than average when adjusted for park and competition. For a 36-year old who was someone else getting injured away from retirement, average is damn good.
What's more is that there seemed to be a compelling explanation for Harang's age-defying 2014 success. He introduced a new pitch, a cutter, that seemed to have at least some influence on his surprisingly average results. Because this was the only interesting thing I've ever found out about a player before other people, I made sure Harang was the first person I spoke two during my brief tenure--how was I supposed to know reporters couldn't shower with the team!--as a credentialed media member at Spring Training.
As the first somewhat notable person I ever interviewed in my life, Harang could have just hauled me out to the garage and bent me over the hood of a radio car, but, no, he was very gentle. I was in love. Now, I know it's not best practice to cheer for certain players because they are nice guys, but, I was Haranging around the Harang train already, so this only boosted that. It didn't really change anything. Integrity saved.
And you know what, y'all? Aaron Harang was the 4th best player in baseball nearly two months into the season. Let me repeat: AARON HARANG WAS THE 4TH BEST PLAYER IN BASEBALL. He was better than Mike Trout, he was better than Josh Donaldson, Jake Arrieta, and Daniel Murphy too. I'm not going to say he was better than Bryce Harper, because he wasn't, but there's a lot of area between amazing and god-like (Bryce Harper) that Harang resided in for 7 weeks or so.
But then, oh good lord, did Harang fall off a cliff. He was haranging to the edge with one hand, that's how close he was to falling completely off into the canyon below. He had produced 2.6 bWAR prior to May 20th. In nearly 60 pre-May 20th innings, Harang had a stingy 1.82 ERA along with a 3.39 K:BB. While that .251 BABIP seemed suspiciously low, it wasn't quite low enough to lose our collective cool. Maybe we should have as he finished the season with 0.7 bWAR, which means that he produced nearly 2 bWBR (wins below replacement, dummy) from May 20th until the end of the season.
While he wasn't awful in his two starts on May 24th and 30th against, respectively, the Nationals and Rockies, the days of lights-out Aaron Harang were over and he started to tumble down that WAR leaderboard worse than Howard Dean fell down the polls following the scream. It was darker down there than it is under Harang's eyes. From his June 4th start against the Reds until the end of the season, Harang threw 101 innings with a 6.86 ERA and a meager 1.53 K:BB ratio. Those numbers are right. I checked them. Keep in mind offense was DOWN in 2015. Not when Aaron Harang was pitching, I can tell you that.
Once the month changed from May to June, opposing hitters started doing dirty things to his slider and changeup. Behold the following charts of batting average and, then, slugging percentage against those two offerings by month courtesy of Brooks Baseball!
Between June and September, inclusive, it must not have been fun to be Aaron Harang when Carlos Ruiz or Cameron Rupp called for a changeup or slider. "Come on, man! We know how this is going to end. Don't make me do this. No! I shook that slider off; don't just throw those same fingers down there again. Stop it! This is cruel." He said these things, no doubt about that, but Ruiz and Rupp didn't take heed as he kept tossing those suckers up there, transforming average 2015 hitters into peak Barry Bonds.
I don't need to tell you that Aaron Harang will not return to the Phillies in 2016. There's just no reason. Not with Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, et al ready to grab life by the horns.
We're confronted, then, with the question of Aaron Harang's Phillies legacy. While he played in Philly for only one unremarkable season, he still deserves a legacy of some sort. It's the least we can do. Hell, even John McDonald has a Phillies legacy, though it is mostly in the form of another player--Nefi Ogando--serving as some kind of human horcrux for Johnny.
Harang provided tremendous value to the Phillies in two ways. First was basically everything he did over his first 9 starts that made him the 4th most valuable player in baseball over that stretch. #NeverForget. Second, Harang threw 172.1 innings that allowed the Phillies the luxury of not rushing Aaron Nola to the majors. Harang's presence on the roster also allowed the Phillies to send David Buchanan down to the minors after being terrible early in the season instead of making him gut it out in the majors. There's a world in which that time in the minors turned Buchanan into a viable back-of-the-rotation option. It just isn't the case that that world is the one in which we all reside.
But you don't want Harang's legacy to be all positive. I mean, he sucked for the bulk of the season. We can't go around rewarding that. But, I'm in charge here by virtue of signing up to review Aaron Harang before anyone else did, and I'm going to keep it positive. Aaron Harang was good in his own way. He was a strong male presence for all the young whippersnappers that entered the hallowed space of the Phillies clubhouse. He ate innings, and, unfortunately, given his age and slowed metabolism, they went straight to his gut. That's a sacrifice that deserves commemoration. And here it has received just that.
So, goodbye Aaron Harang. You weren't very good, but you will be missed.