Okay, Indians fans… who do you have penciled in to that 5th spot in the rotation?
Trevor Bauer? That was my initial choice, but it looks like he’s going to start the year at AAA (and deservedly so). Bauer hasn’t appeared in a game since March 10, and was originally supposed to pitch against the As on Thursday, but didn’t make an appearance. I think we can safely take him off the list, barring some catastrophic injury involving multiple pitchers.
Josh Tomlin? Look, the kid is a good story and he’s pitched well, but he scares the dickens out of me. He is who he is: a control pitcher without much of a repertoire who gives up a lot of home runs, and that’s not someone I want in my rotation. I think Tomlin has the work ethic and motivation to succeed in the notoriously difficult long-man position out of the pen (with some spot starts thrown in), and ultimately I think that’s where he ends up.
Carlos Carrasco? He just got rocked against the As on Thursday, and purportedly pitched pretty poorly in a AAA game a few days before that. You should know my position on Carrasco by now: I think he’s got great physical stuff but he’s lacking the mental makeup to succeed as a starter, and I think he can be great as an arm out of the pen. Slide him into middle relief, tell him to deal with it, and move on if he doesn’t. I think he’s out of the running for the rotation.
Which leaves us Aaron Harang.
2013 was a nightmare of a season for the then-34 year old right hander. He started the season with the Dodgers, but was demoted from the rotation and shipped off to Seattle before he could make a single appearance for LA. In Seattle Harang was awful, putting up a 5.76 ERA in 22 starts before being designated for assignment and winding up with the Mets, where he made 4 starts and was decent.
Truthfully, it looked like Harang was done after 2013. His home run rate last season was 1.6 HR/9 innings; Josh “Solo HR” Tomlin’s career HR/9 is only 1.4! As a result of his disastrous 2013, Harang was unable to secure a major league deal and thus ended up in Goodyear, AZ, fighting for the last rotation spot on an upstart Indians team.
A month ago, if you suggested Harang was going to make the team as a starting pitcher, I would have said you were nuts (actually, I probably would have scoffed, “for who, the Lake Erie Crushers?”). The more I think about it, however, the more I think that he might be the team’s best bet in that role. Here are, by my estimation, the reasons to believe in Aaron Harang in 2014:
1) 2013 Could have been a fluke.
2013 was awful for Harang, but if you look at his numbers across the board, nothing jumps out as being seriously out of whack. He allowed 1.6 HR/9, but he allowed 1.7 in 2008, and he managed to be decent that year (ERA+ of 92, which would roughly equal 2013 Scott Kazmir). Per inning, he struck out more and walked fewer hitters than 2009, and his WHIP was lower than it had been in years. My point is: nothing stands out as a big red flag reason for his atrocious season.
You can see this positively or negatively. The optimist would say that it is just a random bad year and he’s still got the stuff to be a starter in the big leagues, while the pessimist would say it’s clear evidence that Harang has just lost it. There’s really not any evidence either way (though the first 9 innings he’s pitched thus far this Spring certainly look pretty good), so we can’t make a judgment yet. If Harang earns the job, then goes out and pulls a Brett Myers, that’s fine, you cut him loose… but I think there’s reason to believe he can be another diamond in the rough like Scott Kazmir.
Also, refer to this article from SBNation where Harang himself suggests the disruption in his routine (getting benched and traded from the Dodgers) torpedoed his whole season. I don’t know if it’s true, but we can’t discount it.
2) Veteran Leadership!
Two things: I don’t believe in veteran leadership as a quantifiable asset or skill, and even if I did, Jason Giambi has that market cornered.
I can’t help but think that the presence of a guy who used to be an ace could do wonders for a very young pitching staff (and especially rotation). Guys like Salazar, McAllister, and Kluber need to establish themselves as mainstays in a major league rotation, and Harang can be a great mentor in that role. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago when he was the unquestioned #1 guy in Cincinnati… that’s a perspective you can’t get from Carrasco, Tomlin, or Bauer.
3) It’s the best fit for the team right now
Think about it… all the other candidates for the 5th spot in the rotation might be better served elsewhere or have options left. Bauer needs to learn how to throw strikes in AAA, Carrasco looks increasingly suited for the bullpen, and Tomlin has never shown himself to be a league average starter (and is coming off a major injury). All three of those guys have a different role awaiting them if they aren’t in the rotation on Opening Day. Harang, meanwhile, would have to accept a designation to AAA; I can’t see him finding a home in the bullpen in Cleveland.
The Spring numbers have been encouraging, and we aren’t paying him a lot. What’s the harm in giving Harang a chance to prove that 2013 was a fluke? He won’t prove that in Columbus, that’s for sure.
The race is not over, but I have to think Harang might be the frontrunner for the final rotation spot… a confluence of opportunity, need, and performance that might just help us all forget about the success story of Scott Kazmir.
Then again, maybe it’s all just Spring optimism blinding me…