Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cincinnati's favorite son

In my google searching for a good Joe Morgan / Dusty Baker story, I came across an all-time great FJM, which I highly recommend. It's a response to an article by a guy named Paul Daugherty who writes for the very esteemed Cincinnati Enquirer.

Here's the thing about Paul D: he hates sabermetrics and often calls out Bill James in his column; he loves Dusty Baker; he writes very poorly; he's from Cincinnati. What more need I say? Let's welcome him to the mix as a new FTC whipping boy.

Here's a thing about Aaron Harang.

Loss by loss, Harang's deal becomes an albatross

That's the title. I'm going to point out that three words in it end with "-oss," and that henceforth, you are to take a drink each time that happens.

In 2006 and 2007, when Aaron Harang won 32 games and averaged close to seven innings a start, I gave him the nickname Hoss.

1) Drink
2) Who just up and nicknames a guy "Hoss"?
3) From here on, I'm going to assume the nickname never caught on, and that Paul Daugherty is the only one who calls him this.

Hoss was the largest and gentlest of the Cartwright sons on the old TV western, Bonanza.


It fit Harang, who is large (6-foot-7, 260 pounds), modest and gives back generously to the community: A $55,000 donation in 2007, to build a ballfield for kids with disabilities, and Aaron's Aces, his continuing program of buying tickets for military families.

Wow. This is what we in the business call: a terrible fucking nickname. The only way this improves my life, is that I now understand why Pauly Shore called that guy whom he paid to hit him, "Hoss." Clever.

How good was Hoss Harang in '06 and '07?

Pretty good. Drink!

His ERA (3.75) was kind of jacked up for a guy with peripherals as good as his, but that's what comes from playing in Cincinnati, where HRs happen.

The Reds were a combined 20 games under .500 in those two seasons. In games Harang started, they were 19 over .500. By himself, Harang made the Reds a very good team.

That's an awesome conclusion. Now dig mine:

The Reds went 80-82 and 72-90 in those years. Harang went 32-17 with a 3.75 ERA. Bronson Arroyo went 23-26 with a 3.73 ERA in that same time. The offense happened to score more for Harang than Arroyo, thus two above average starters did about the same amount to make their team a "very good" (?) one. Only Harang got credit for it.

In 2008 and 2009, as his fortunes slipped dramatically, Harang kept it professional, rarely expressing frustration at his lack of run support (just over three runs per nine innings)

Oh man, isn't it sometimes a bitch when your W-L record really isn't something you control?

and taking the ball whenever asked. Media and fans have wondered if Harang's troubles began May 25, 2008, when he threw 68 pitches and four innings of scoreless relief, three days after he'd started and thrown 103 pitches. Harang has never said a word.

Go here. Look at the GSc column. It stands for Game Score, and it's our Quaint Quack Stat of the Day. Real quickly, Bill James put together a scoring system for starting pitchers, which starts at 50 abstract points and adds or subtracts points based on good or bad things the guy does throughout the game. So basically a GSc below 50 means the starter didn't do his job, and one in the 60s or 70s is pretty good. As you can see, Harang had a lot of shitty starts in 2008, but also a couple very good ones sprinkled in.

It's entirely possible the guy blew out his arm on May 25, 2008, but it's also possible that he was just having a crappy year where his age caught up with him. I mean, if you objectively look at the data, you see that Aaron Harang never hits a point of no return or one of irreparable damage; he bounces back quite a bit, he just falls back to pieces.

Actually, Harang pitched three times in seven days during that stretch. Four days after the relief appearance, he made his regular start and was ineffective. Harang threw a total of 239 pitches that week.

Huh, okay. Put that on the table, why don't you, Paul Daugherty. Let's see then... so he blows his arm out in the week from May 22-29. Then he stinks it up on June 3 and 8th. Yeah, you're onto something, PD. Dude was overworked and that's why he wasn't able to regain his... oh wait. He pitched like a frickin' ace on June 13th. Huh. So it's almost like, Aaron Harang could be a good pitcher again if his manager pitched him on regular rest.

The knee-jerk is to blame those seven days for the last two-plus years.

Oh no, that's not at all what I meant to imply when I suggested that Dusty strains his pitchers past a reasonable point. No, the conclusion to draw from all this is just that Aaron Harang is aging out of his prime, and his previous trouble with the HR will be exacerbated by a slowing fastball.

That might have explained the rest of 2008.

I mean, maybe it could have. But really it's just that he turned 30 and pitched in your bullshit stadium.

It doesn't account for 2009, or the beginning of this season.

Oh shit, you know what does? The fact that he was 31 and 32 years old. That has a lot to do with explaining it.

If Harang had hurt his arm, it would have been diagnosed and fixed.

True. So maybe he's just old?

We don't know what's ailing Aaron Harang.

Aging fly ball pitcher who tosses half his games in a zero gravity stadium.

Fuck you, you aren't listening.

In spring training, new pitching coach Bryan Price worked on Harang's motion.

Okay, that's cool. I'm serious. Not being snarky here. I am legitimately fine with Paul Daugherty reporting that the pitching coach worked with one of his players on pitching related things.


Ready to get snarky?

Dusty Baker worked on his mojo, naming Harang the Opening Day starter. Harang has kept it positive, dwelling on how he has thrown, rather than on the results.

When the Hague prosecutes Dusty Baker for war crimes against young, talented pitchers, Paul Daugherty is also going to hang for whatever charges the allies stuck to Joe Goebbels. Seriously... MOJO? Austin Powers 2: The Spy That Shagged Me is alive and well on Paulie D's netflix queue, folks.

And while we're on the subject of critiquing some douchebag from Cincinnati, check out how he uses the word "dwell." In the place of a neutral infinitive like "thinking" or "reflecting," he chooses one of the heaviest, most negative verbs he can. Why not just say "Harang has kept it positive, flagellating himself over how he's thrown, not how hard the opposition has hit him."?

Nothing's working. Hoss seems lost, and the numbers are gruesome:

1) Drink.
2) Numbers?

He's 12-33 since 2007.

Oh cool, those numbers. You know, height in feet, followed by inches.
(Tall man.)

He's 1-12 in his last 20 starts. The Reds are 7-13 in those games. And yet those statistics are the Mona Lisa, compared to these:

1.6 HR/9
1.398 WHIP
.322 BAbip
-10.2 Pitching runs
-0.8 WPA

The Reds paid Harang $11 million last year, nearly $2 million a win. They owe him $12.5 million this year. On a team with a $76 million payroll, Harang's share is 16 percent. Next year, Harang is scheduled to make $12.75 million, if the Reds pick up his option. If they don't, they still owe him a $2 million buyout.

You sound like a Redskins fan.

To be fair, Cincinnati's erstwhile ace was a bargain when he was Hoss, earning just under $8 million total in '06 and '07.


I have lived in four major cities in my life: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, DC, and New York. In New York the papers are terrible and that's what you come to expect; DC doesn't give a shit about baseball; Pittsburgh has Dejan Kovacevic; Cleveland has Terry Pluto. These latter two gentleman are excellent sports writers who think in, like, multi-year terms. So when Bullshit Magee has an escalating salary in his contract, these guys will usually point this out to the fans and say "Enjoy the first few years, because the value isn't what it seems to be." They say this, they really do. Not: "This deal sure is brilliant (circa first year or two of a deal), TRADE VOTTO AND BAILEY FOR JOE FUCKING BLANTON!!!1 "

What it all means, in the screwed-up world of Major League economics, is this: If Harang doesn't find the Hoss suit soon, and wear it once every five days, the Reds are in a very bad way.


Hoss "suit" is something from Silence of the Lambs, right?

It's one thing for the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies to make a $12 million mistake. It's something far, far different for the Reds to do it.

I would sympathize with your plight, if my payroll wasn't half the size of yours.

Small-money teams have to avoid bad contracts. The optimum is to fill the roster with young and talented players whose salaries the team can control for the first six years of their major league careers. Lately, the Reds have had some hits (Joey Votto, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, perhaps Jay Bruce) and some misses (Francisco Cordero, Scott Rolen).

The Reds have been good at developing their own.

The Reds have been shitty at acquiring veterans.

Paul Daughtery was seriously behind the idea of trading Votto and Bailey for this guy.

Harang's current four-year deal was heavily back-loaded and smart, early on. Now, it's a disaster. His salary makes him virtually untradeable. It also makes it a certainty Harang will get a very long crack at becoming Hoss again, even if it dims Cincinnati's hopes on the field.

"Smart, early on" and "fucking terrible in all" are apparently not mutually exclusive.

Also: DRINK.

Harang's strength was his ability to throw a pitch right where he wanted it. He kept the ball down in the strike zone; his fastball generally was between 92 and 94 mph. Now, he's lost that pinpoint control and the velocity of his fastball comes and goes.

He's 31. Then he'll be 32. This is something you should have noticed as the beat writer when covering this contract 5 years ago.

To avoid a 10th consecutive losing season, the Reds need Hoss to be Hoss.

Drink + Drink.

Also: remember when Harang was good for two years and the Reds were below .500 both times? For Cincinnati to avoid a losing season they need Hoss to be Denny fucking McLain.

To climb from the muck of mediocrity, they have to be smarter with their cash. Aaron Harang is a solid pro, one of the guys you root for. He is also an anchor around ownership's neck. Let's hope nobody drowns.

Aaron Harang is that guy everyone loves, but he's absolutely murdering the franchise. Let's hope he can stop.

Anyway, in conclusion... there isn't enough of a FUCK CINCINNATI vibe during the summer. From here on out, if you present me with a ticket stub to a Reds@Pirates game, I will personally refund you $1 as part of the 2010 FTC FUCK CINCINNATI super savers ticket plan. And if you can photoshop yourself into a picture of Hines Ward at a Pirates game, I will refund your ticket at full face-value.

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