After 12 years and nearly 2000 major league innings, the book on Aaron Harang was written, edited, and published. He was, during a three-year peak, an All-Star level pitcher, although he was never actually an all-star. Aside from those years, which came between 2005 and 2007 mind you, Harang had occupied the realm that exists between replacement level and league-average. Around this time last year, he was a 36 year old free agent no one wanted. It probably would have been a safe bet that he would never pitch another major league inning.
Then the Braves pitching staff blew up with a series of elbow and shoulder injuries and, lacking any better options--which, although true, is hard to wrap my head around--gave Aaron Harang a call. He was 35, could reliably throw 150-200 non-embarrassing innings. No one harangued the Braves for the move. It made sense but expectations were low.
By now you know how the story goes. In the first half, Harang was in vintage form, but with the extra rounding-out of flavor that occurs when aged for 36 years. He set the world on fire in his first 5 starts, flashing a 0.85 ERA (2.28 FIP) while striking out over a batter per inning. Of course, he cooled off over the rest of the season. He's not Clayton Kershaw, after all. But even a chilled 35-year Harang Vintage was an enjoyable treat for the Braves as he went for a 4.08 ERA (3.80 FIP), striking out a more modest and Harang-like 6.67 batters per nine innings the rest of the way.
All in all, it made for something like a league average season as Harang finished with a 3.57 ERA (3.57 FIP) over 204 innings. This made him worth somewhere between 1.4 and 2.5 wins, depending on your favorite flavor. League average was probably something like a 70th or 8th percentile outcome for
For 2015, Harang enters both long in tooth and in face at 37 years old. PECOTA either doesn't trust 2014 or its cognizant of the track record of 37 year old pitchers--it's probably a bit of both--projecting him for a 4.52 ERA over 161 innings, which translates to -0.9 wins. Other projection systems (ZiPS, Steamer) pretty much agree that Harang is set for ~150 innings of replacement-level pitching in 2015.
Whether you are tempted to believe Harang is likely to outperform his projections depends on how much you credit his 2014 to an improvement in skill or a change in repertoire. Whether Pitch F/X was picking up a new pitch in the cutter (discussed in the previously linked-to post) or or was simply a recording error is likely the question that will determine Harang's ability to carry his 2014 success over to 2015.
I tend to think that Harang's introduction of a cutter to his arsenal gives sufficient justification to claim we have relevant information the projection systems don't. Even so, it's hard to expect much out of a 37 year old pitcher, especially one who has pitched over 2000 major league innings. There's a there's too much risk with pitchers in general and 37 year old ones in particular to put any faith in Harang putting together 200 league average innings again.
If I were a betting man--I'm not but try to convince myself I am--I'd take the over on the projections while expecting a significant drop-off from 2014. To put completely speculative numbers on this endeavor, I'd peg Harang at 175 innings and a 3.80 ERA. That, I imagine, would be worth something like one win. Fans won't harangue him for that.
What do you expect out of Harang? Share your projections in the comments.