Honorable Mention: Aaron Harang
If yesterday's posting was to set the stage for the pregnant expectations of a great career, today's is to serve as a requiem for an underappreciated workhorse: Aaron Harang. In terms of advancing his standing as an all-time Red, Harang actually went backwards in 2010. Last year, he was marked as ranking #134 on the list; this year he sits at #135.
Rather than contemplate Harang's poor 2010, then, let's recap and remember the good times.
In 2003, the Reds were bad, and they were lopsided. The offense was good, and there were reserves on the horizon in the form of Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, and Wily Mo Pena. There were few reasons to expect anything but future offensive dominance, but the pitching was a disaster. There were four regular starting pitchers, and three of them had ERAs over 5.3. The bullpen had some OK arms, but nothing spectacular. A complete pitching staff overhaul was needed, and it's against that backdrop that the Reds made an unusual trade, sending Jose Guillen-with a year-to-date OPS over 1000 to Oakland for Harang, Joe Valentine, and Jeff Bruksch. The less said about the latter two, the better, but Harang was an interesting acquisition. Through the minors, Harang had exhibited high strikeout totals and pinpoint control, clearly excelling at most levels. In 100 or so innings in Oakland, however, he was not striking out many batters, and his numbers suffered accordingly. Already 25 years old when nabbed by the Reds, Harang had promise, but it was hardly a slam dunk.
There is no question which team got the better end of the deal. Oakland, in the midst of a pennant chase, received 170 mediocre at bats from Guillen before being bounced in the ALCS by Boston. Guillen then left for Anaheim via free agency. The Reds, however, had the luxury of time, and they used it to develop Harang. Overnight, Harang began striking batters out (his K/9 rate went from 5.0 to 7.0 from 2003 to 2004), and the other numbers improved accordingly. In 2004, Harang's ERA+ was 88, then 112 in 2005.
In 2006, the leap happened. For a two-year stretch, Harang was truly among the best pitchers in the league.3rd in innings pitched in 2006, and 2nd the following year. 9th in ERA+ both years (124 in each). First place, then second in strikeouts recorded. He got some award recognition, finishing 4th in the 2007 NL Cy Young, but seemed to be largely overlooked in the national discussion of the game's elite pitchers.
Flyball pitchers, a group to which Harang belongs, always walk along a cliff's edge, and in 2007, Harang began to stumble. His K/9 rate fell by a full strikeout, and his HR/9 rate increased by half a dinger. His ERA+ fell back under 100 in 2008, and his W-L record reversed from 16-6 to 6-17. It wasn't quite over-Harang pitched about ¾ of the 2009 season at a league average rate, but the warning bells had been rung. In 2010, Harang was nominally the staff ace, starting his 5th straight Opening Day, but was eventually removed from the rotation due to ineffectiveness.
On November 3rd, Harang was granted free agency. On December 2, he agreed to terms on a one year contract with the Padres.