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The Success of Braves' Aaron Harang: Who deserves credit?

Aaron Harang is leading the league in ERA, he’s flirted with 2 no-no’s in his last 2 starts, and has made everyone forget the name Freddy Garcia.  What are the reasons behind his success?  Who gets the credit?  Is this success sustainable?

Atlanta Braves’ Aaron Harang is pitching the baseball of his life!

Giving Credit where Credit’s due/Reasons Behind the Success

1. Frank Wren and Braves’ scouts- Although I didn’t believe in the numbers or the radar gun, Harang had a good spring with Cleveland. The real story for him was an uptick in velocity, which was being reported topping out at 94 in March (Spring Training radar guns are notoriously faulty to add a few MPH), and evidently aided his success: 9 innings of 2 run baseball with good peripherals.  When the Indians cut ties with Harang, the Braves cut ties with Freddy Garcia and swooped in to grab him.  Most of the staff at Tomahawk Take were less than thrilled, and with reason, as Harang, looking at last year’s numbers, looked to be done.  I’m glad the scouts are smarter than we are!

2. Roger McDowell-  Just looking at the stats thus far, Harang is throwing his 2 fastballs about 70% of the time, an increase

Almost every Atlanta Braves’ pitcher has been victim of the “Roger” effect,…that’s a good thing!

between 7-10% compared to the last 4 years. He’s really cut back throwing his curveball (3.5%) and changeup (4.4%), 2 pitches that he threw almost 20% of the time last year. Essentially, he’s a 3 pitch pitcher; 2-seamer, 4-seamer, slider. To keep batters off balance, he throws one of two other pitches, on an average, once per inning. There’s reason here to believe that Roger must’ve seen something in Aaron’s repertoire to decrease the amount of his off-speed stuff and stick with the heaters, as this has been a major change for Aaron.

3. Aaron Harang- There’s no doubt that there’s been some added velocity this year from Aaron, as his fastball has topped out at 94 mph.  On the contrary, his average fastball is identical to what it’s been in the past.  The only explanation for this is that Aaron fluctuates the speed of his fastball in-game.  Last night, both of Aaron’s fastballs topped out between 92 and 93.  However, the average velocity of the 2 were a tick below 90.  It’s an interesting concept that he’s added velocity without adding “average velocity”, which essentially means he’s pitching faster and slower this year, with the latter focusing on pinpoint accuracy.

Atlanta Braves’ catchers Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird deserve some of the credit for the early successes in, what was initially thought to be a depleted staff.

4. Braves’ catchers- No real elaboration here, but someone has to put the fingers down and so far, it’s working.  Harang’s pitched in 4 games, 2 to Evan Gattis and 2 to Gerald Laird.  While he’s been slightly more successful with Gattis, he’s been great with both.  Listening to Braves’ radio the other day, Don Sutton mentioned that listening to Gattis, Laird, and Harang talk about catching and pitching was a thing of beauty and hilarity, with Harang and Laird acting as professors, and Gattis like the eager schoolboy, soaking it all in.  Well, keep the discussion going boys!

Is the Success Sustainable? Yes and no.

While Harang is pitching the baseball of his lifetime, there is reason to believe that he’s been a bit lucky thus far.  However, there is also reason to believe that a good deal of this success is sustainable.  Let’s take a look.

1. Left on-base %- Aaron has really amped up his game this year when runners are on base. Thus far, he’s stranding runners at an astounding 90.5% clip, which is 17.4% higher than his career rate.  While that strand rate is other worldly, there are reasons to believe that he can keep it lower than his career rate, one being his K-rate is higher, two being pitching in an easier division without the DH to worry about, and three being the friendly dimensions of Turner Field.

2. BABIP against-  Aaron’s batting average on balls in play against him is very low: .143. This marks a .159 point difference from his career norms. The three factors mentioned in #1 will likely lead to a lower BABIP than his career rate, but the .143 isn’t sustainable.

4. HR/FB%- In 4 starts, Aaron has not given up a home run, which has led to a 0% HR/FB ratio.  His career rate is 10.4%.  While a rate less than 10% is likely considering this immaculate start, expect this number to rise steadily the rest of the year.

Conclusion

With the change in arsenal, the mixing of speeds, the added velocity, the focus on location, the change of leagues (he was in the AL for the majority of last year), the “Roger” effect, and the change to a more pitcher-friendly park, look for Aaron Harang to continue outperforming his peripherals.  However, don’t expect Harang to compete for the Cy Young. If it happens,  let it be a pleasant surprise!  Nonetheless, Aaron Harang, thus far,  has been the pickup of the offseason!

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