Every year, for both fantasy football and fantasy baseball, I like to tout one player who you can get for a dollar in your auction draft, last round in your snake draft, or even better a player you can get in free agency. I've come to deem my Elijah Dukes player as stretch guys anyways so it's probably no surprise they tend to not work out. These are not guys who I think will be good, but flier guys who I think you should get if you have the roster room for them.
For the 2011 fantasy baseball season (and as the title obviously suggests) my Elijah Dukes is Aaron Harang.
If Harang doesn't work out, then Oh Well. You didn't pay that much to get him so it really was no skin off of your back. And if Harang does play well I'll be more than happy to play the reverse side of the coin and say it was a lucky call. I won't be, pardon my French, a little bitch and not take the blame if Harang doesn't pan out but turn around and call it my greatest call ever if he does.
The reason I like Harang is two-fold: The first (and main reason) is that Harang is now playing in the friendliest pitchers park in PETCO (San Diego) and the second is that he's not playing for Dusty Baker anymore.
Let me address my second point first: Aaron Harang is not playing for Dusty Baker anymore. Although I am not a Chicago Cubs fan, I saw first hand how Dusty destroys pitchers. Kerry Wood has revamped his career as a reliever (especially here in Chicago) but you still can't utter the words "Kerry Wood" or "Mark Prior" in the Chicagoland area without Cubs fans cringing knowing what potential Baker destroyed in these two promising kids.
I remember my sophomore year in college sitting around in my R.A.'s dorm room while DME and I were discussing baseball. The year was 2007 and Dusty Baker had just recently been hired by the Cincinnati Reds. Harang had just come off of a season where he went 16-11 with a 3.76 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and a 8.3 K/9. DME was raving about Harang for the upcoming season while he was mock drafting and not paying attention to the conversation in the room and every five minutes our R.A. would yell at DME to shut up about fantasy baseball. I retorted back to DME that while I loved Harang's promise I would be staying away from Harang (and all Reds pitchers) because of the Dusty Baker signing. DME responded that Harang was a workhorse and Dusty wouldn't affect him and that Harang would be good for the upcoming season.
Well, DME was half right.
Harang was amazing in the upcoming season where he was 4th in NL Cy Young voting with a 16-6 record, 3.73 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.5 K/9 all in 231.2 innings pitched. The reason I say DME was half right was because Dusty Baker did ruin Harang, but I was one year too early getting off the Aaron Harang bandwagon.
Over the next four seasons, Harang's innings pitched dropped from 231.2 in '07 to 184.1, 162.1, and 111.2 respectively. Harang's ERA ballooned over the same time frame from 3.73 to 4.78 to 4.21 to a career low last year with 5.32. Harang's WHIP also blew up going from 1.14 in 2007 to 1.38, 1.41, and 1.59 respectively the past few seasons. Needless to say Harang's HR/9 grew, his K/9 dropped as well as his K/BB ratio.
Now certainly there are a myriad of factors that could contribute to those poor numbers. But I blame Dusty Baker. Whether you think that opinion is rational or not is up to you, but not only does Dusty Baker have a history of ruining pitchers, I've seen Dusty force Harang into throwing too many pitches on too little days rest.
In fact, when I did a Google search of "Aaron Harang Dusty Baker" not only did I find instances where Baker threw Harang out after a rain delay and after Harang admitted to having dead arm, but I found an article written last year by DME entitled "Aldrois Chapman, Meet Dusty Baker" where DME analyzed Reds pitchers by their Pitcher Abuse Points and you can see how high Harang ranks among PAP. In fact, in that very same article, DME links to another article where he claims Dusty Baker broke Harang on May 22, 2008. DME writes:
As an owner of Harang last year, Baker's impact was extremely frustrating. As fangraphs notes, Baker used Harang pretty heavily early on, but he held together pretty well. That is until May, however, when Baker found a very creative way to break him. After having thrown 103 pitches through 5.1 innings on May 22, Baker called upon Harang to throw another 63 across four innings just three days later. Four days after that, Baker started Harang on four days rest, allowing him to throw 73 more pitches across four more innings of work.Part of the reason that I am not all in on Harang is because it is entirely possible Dusty broke Harang for good. Kerry Wood came back but he had to do it as a reliever. Shoulda-beens Mark Prior and Jason Schmidt never came back. The most recent pitcher Dusty broke was Edison Volquez who is still on-and-off with injuries (Although admittedly I think Volquez' injuries would have happened with any manager). However, Harang is only 32. It's a tad old for my liking but certainly within the range of a comeback year. Call it a gut feeling, but I like Harang pitching outside the control of Dusty Baker.
The main reason I like Harang though is because he's pitching in PETCO park.
I would love to do an analysis (DME-style) where I tell you what Harang's WHIP, K/9 and ERA will be when factoring in Padres defense and park factors and such; however, I neither have the intellectual capacity to do such an in-depth analysis nor set constants to do such research.
For starters, I don't know where to begin with Harang. Ideally, one would use some baseline numbers before factoring in defense and park, but I don't know what Harang's are. I would like to use his 2006 and 2007 season numbers but I'm also an idealist. I truly don't know if Dusty full out broke Harang or Harang will revert back to form with new scenery. For the sake of my own personal fantasy team I'm taking the latter, but I just don't know. Secondly, the additions of Brad Hawpe, Orlando Hudson, and Jason Bartlett makes predicting San Diego's team UZR and USR/150 just a flat out guess. Thirdly, maybe someone can help me with this, but I just don't know how to translate PETCO's park effects to a pitcher's fantasy numbers.
But I will give you evidence (outside of your common knowledge about PETCO) to show just how good the park can have on fantasy pitchers. While there will always be a spot in my heart for Jon Garland (and a spot in my closet because I own a #20 shirt) as a White Sox fan, he truly is not a good pitcher. Garland has a career ERA of 4.32, 4.76 K/9, and a FIP of 4.47. Despite that, Garland, while calling San Diego home last year, had an ERA of 3.47 and a 6.12 K/9 with 14 wins.
I see no reason (if Harang is fully healthy and we use Harang's 2005-2007 average ERA) that Harang can't post a 3.4-3.5 ERA with a 8+ K/9 if he pitches for an entire season in a Padres uniform. Even if Harang performs like Clayton Richard did in 2010, we're still looking at 2007 Harang numbers.
Hopefully, in my long winded rant, I have convinced you to take a flier on Harang, or at the very least, if you have a guy go on the DL that you pick up Harang to fill a roster spot. At the minimum I hope you draft Harang in an NL-only league. If I have convinced you of that then I will have considered my job done a successful one.