Hoping to contend beyond the 2007 season, the Cincinnati Reds signed their two finest starting pitchers to extensions last week.
Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo each signed new deals that could keep them in Cincinnati until 2011 respectively. Harang signed a 4 year/$36.5M deal, while Arroyo agreed to an extension at 2 years/$25M. Arroyo is set to make $3.8M next season and $3.95M for the 2008 season. His extension will kick in beginning the 2009 season.
Here is how each deal is structured:
* 2007: $4.25M
* 2008: $6.75M
* 2009: $11.0M
* 2010: $12.5M
* 2011: $12.75M (Club Option, $2M Buyout)
* 2009: $9.5M
* 2010: $11.0M
* 2011: $11.0M (Club Option, $2M Buyout)
Pitching relatively unnoticed most of last season, Aaron Harang quietly had the best year of his career. Harang led the National League in strikeouts with 215, and was second in the league, behind Arroyo, in innings pitched with 234.1 innings. Harang was 10th in the NL in ERA+, posting the best mark of his career at 122. At the end of the year, he was worth 8.8 wins above the replacement player.
Perhaps the reason Harang's performance was overlooked throughout the season was the emergence of teammate Bronson Arroyo. Coming to the Reds in the deal that sent Wily Mo Pena to the Red Sox, Arroyo grabbed headlines by starting the season 5-0. At the end of the year, he would lead the majors in innings pitched and was worth 9.6 wins above the replacement player; almost five full wins more than his previous career high. Arroyo also established a new career high in ERA+ at 140, good for 4th in the NL.
The two combined to face nearly 2000 hitters and formed arguably the NL Central's best 1-2 punch. It's easy to tell as to why Wayne Krivsky was interested in locking up these two arms.
Here is a look at how each pitcher has progressed peripheral-wise over the last three season:
Arroyo may have received more publicity, and may have been a tad more valuable at the end of last season, but Harang was the stronger peripheral pitcher. We've seen Harang's strikeout rates rise over the last 3 seasons while he has also become a bit stingier with free passes. The glaring weakness in his game comes in the surrendering of the longball. His HR/G mark of 1.10 last season was the 15th highest in the NL. Much of this can be attributed to his struggles at home in The Great American Ballpark, where he gave up 20 of his 28 homers in just over 113 innings.
Over to Arroyo, he too had problems with the homerun ball. His HR/G mark at 1.21 was worse than Harang's and was the 10th highest mark in the NL. Unlike Harang however, Arroyo gave up home runs both on the road (15) and at home (16).
Looking at the big picture however, both were pretty solid peripheral wise last season. Harang and Arroyo each had solid K/BB ratios of 3.86 and 2.88 respectively, and the only weakness either of the two possessed was serving up the longball.
Looking at each pitcher's Batted Ball Data, we can get a rough estimate of what a player's BABIP should look like given his LD% added to .120 (a formula Marc Normandin frequently uses in his Player Profiles over at Baseball Prospectus). Here is there the batted ball data Harang and Arroyo have compiled over the last 3 seasons. eBABIP will be the BABIP we can expect that season given the pitcher's LD% + .120:
Looking first at Arroyo, the high flyball rates probably suppress his BABIP a little, but the differential between his 2006 BABIP and eBABIP was around .50 points, which is significant difference suggesting lady luck was on his side at times during the 2006 season. The high flyball rates can't be promising if Arroyo is looking to trim down the amount home runs he gives up each season either.
Harang, on the other hand, seems to have a closer relationship between his BABIP and eBABIP. Once again, the high flyball rates may have suppressed his BABIP a little and probably had a lot to do with the fact he gave up 28 homers last year.
We have a couple of flyball hurlers which certainly isn't nice considering they will make roughly half of their starts at The Great American Ballpark, a stadium that typically increases offensive production and home run rates.
Looking toward the future for each pitcher, here are the 2007 projections for Harang and Arroyo from PECOTA, CHONE, Marcel, and ZiPS:
ZiPS seems to be the most optimistic on Harang's outlook but none of the projection systems expect 200+ strikeouts or a sub-4 ERA from Harang again next year.
ZiPS also has the most positive viewpoint on Arroyo's 2007 season. PECOTA isn't terribly optimistic regarding either of the two pitchers total value above the replacement level next season either. Last season, Harang and Arroyo combined to produced 18.4 wins above the replacement player, next season, PECOTA expects the two to produce 9.7 wins above the replacement level player combined, nearly slashing their production in half.
Regardless, I'm particularly fond of what Krivsky is done with Harang. Even though Harang will turn 30 in May of the 2008 season, I can't help but like the upside he presents. The Reds are still a low market team, and with the going rate of free agent pitchers so high, locking up a guy like Harang is almost a no-brainer. The Reds can't afford big name free agent pitchers, and with Homer Bailey as the only top pitching prospect in the minors, I'd have a hard time not criticizing Krivsky for not locking Harang up when he had the chance to.
I personally don't like the Arroyo deal as much as I like the Harang deal, but give Krivsky some credit for locking down his two current top starters.
Each of these contracts could turn ugly near the latter part of each deal, but for now, it's probably worth the risk. While neither of these moves are "slam-dunks" in my mind, The Reds have locked up two arms they no longer need to worry about financially.