4H Club, Part 1

Between the holiday season and a flu bug that refuses to leave, I have been negligent in my duties. Today, we start catching up and cover a couple of items that demand commentary.

Aaron Harang

The Padres signed Aaron Harang to a 1-year deal back at the beginning of December. The contract is for $3.5 million, plus a $5 million mutual option for 2012 ($0.5 million buyout).

The right-hander, who attended high school (Patrick Henry) and college (SDSU) in San Diego, turns 33 in May. Originally selected by Texas in the 6th round of the 1999 draft, Harang made his big-league debut with Oakland in 2002 and enjoyed modest success there before being traded to the Reds in July 2003. He had a nice run from 2005 to 2007 in Cincinnati (43-30, 3.77 ERA, 120 ERA+, 3.75 K/BB), leading the National League in wins, complete games, and strikeouts in 2006.

Harang’s list of most similar pitchers through age 32 starts with former Padres right-hander Andy Ashby and ends with Cardinals right-hander Jake Westbrook. Others include Harang’s former Reds teammate Bronson Arroyo, as well as ex-Padres Bobby Jones and Brett Tomko. In other words, Harang finds himself in the company of no. 3 or no. 4 starters… sort of like the departed Jon Garland.

The bad news is that, for a variety of reasons (most health-related), Harang has been less effective in recent seasons. He has won exactly six games in each of the past three seasons (so has Heath Bell), and although it’s tempting to consider Harang a replacement for Garland, the numbers suggest a different story. In some respects, Harang is better paired with another departed starter, Kevin Correia:

Pitcher GS    IP  ERA ERA+  WAR
Correia 78 453.0 4.91  80  -1.5
Garland 98 600.2 4.12 101   4.6
Harang  75 458.1 4.71  90   1.5

Harang has been better than Correia, but the former’s peripheral numbers give pause:

Year Age GS    IP   H/9  K/9 K/BB
2007  29 34 231.2  8.27 8.47 4.19
2008  30 29 184.1 10.01 7.47 3.06
2009  31 26 162.1 10.31 7.87 3.30
2010  32 20 111.2 11.20 6.61 2.16

Fewer starts, innings, and strikeouts; more hits; and declining command isn’t a combination you want to see from a pitcher entering his mid-thirties. If Harang can provide 25-30 starts of roughly league average performance, i.e., duplicate Correia’s 2009, I’ll be happy. Given Harang’s recent history, I’m not holding my breath. Still, $4 million isn’t a terrible price to pay for a guy who used to be good.

Orlando Hudson

Give Ken Davidoff credit. In November, he predicted that Orlando Hudson would sign with the Padres. The numbers were off, but considering that few (if any) others saw this coming, we’ll cut Davidoff some slack. He had Hudson signing a 1-year deal for $6 million. I offered the following comment:

Sounds good to me, although I wonder if Hudson can’t do better in a market that features so few palatable middle infielders?

A couple of weeks later, I again remarked on the state of the market:

The middle infield options continue to look brutal. It’s basically Orlando Hudson and a bunch of garbage.

Having observed Kevin Towers for so long and grown accustomed to the style of the self-proclaimed “Sludge Merchant,” I assumed that the Padres would end up with garbage at second base. But instead, Hudson signed a 2-year contract with San Diego for $11.5 million, with an $8 million club option in 2013 ($2 million buyout).

Lesson learned: Jed Hoyer isn’t Kevin Towers. But we’ll leave that discussion for Part 2.

Returning to the Padres’ new second baseman, FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron liked the signing. Cameron cited Hudson’s “across-the-board skills” as a “good use of resources by the Padres,” noting that “there’s very little downside to this deal.” It’s hard to argue with that assessment.

Hudson does everything his predecessor, David Eckstein, did, only better. Hudson (he’ll be 33 in 2011) also is younger than Eckstein (36). Here’s how each player fared over the past three seasons:

Player     PA   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+ WAR
Eckstein 1436 .264 .327 .335  83  2.4
Hudson   1645 .284 .353 .411 103  6.9

Hudson’s offensive numbers slipped last year (.268/.338/.372, 93 OPS+). His age and new home park make the odds of that trend reversing itself slim. Then again, even if he maintains 2010 levels, Hudson represents an improvement over what Eckstein provided.

And have I mentioned Hudson’s glovework? I’m as uncomfortable with citing awards or any of the available defensive metrics as the next guy, but those are all we’ve got, so let’s take a look. Hudson has won four Gold Glove awards (2005-2007, 2009) and in 2010 posted extraordinary numbers, leading MLB in Runs Saved. He also finished second, to Philadelphia’s Chase Utley, in the Fielding Bible Awards.

Second base defense hasn’t been a strength for the Padres in recent years. Even if Hudson’s bat isn’t as potent as it once was, he gives the Padres a better glove than they had in Eckstein. For a team that doesn’t figure to outslug its opponents, pitching and defense are crucial. And although Padres’ hurlers ranked among the best at striking out batters in 2010, they should not have to rely solely on their ability to avoid contact for success. Having men behind them who can reach batted balls and make plays on them is a necessity. Hudson is one such man.

Besides, how can you not root for a guy who made it back from a perilunate dislocation of the wrist?

Tomorrow, we’ll finish up by examining the Brad Hawpe signing and assessing the job GM Jed Hoyer has done this off-season…

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1 Responses »

  1. I like the comparison of Harang to Correia. Garland may well be replaced by Stauffer, possibly with help from Luebke, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Inman and/or Liz get a few starts later in the season. The only thing that would screw up the audition phase is what happened last year: a “rebuilding” team that perniciously contends for the division title.