Hello there, Hypothetical Major League Baseball General Manager who may or may not take up residence in the mid-Atlantic portion of the country. You probably have a good amount of experience with this base-and-balling game, which is why you've been given this prestigious position. You're probably also feeling a lot of pressure to succeed, especially after your team didn't live up to its expectations last year. Since this failure was primarily due to a subpar rotation, you've probably been looking for upgrades in the offseason; one of these theoretical enhancements could be a certain veteran pitcher and grunge rocker (who may have taken some enhancements of his own). I speak, of course, of Bronson Arroyo, whom you've courted over these past few days.
There are a few reasons why your team might be inclined to sign Arroyo. He's durable (32+ games started in each of the last nine seasons), he brings smooth music to the clubhouse, and he would appear to be adept at that whole pitching thing; over the past two years, he's finished with a 3.76 ERA despite pitching for the Reds, who play in a hitter-friendly ballpark.
If your team was to sign Arroyo, the price would probably be in the neighborhood of 2 years and $15 million. In today's market, that might seem like a bargain; however, I'm here to tell you that there's an equally skilled pitcher out there, who will most definitely come at a cheaper price!
Don't believe me? How about a blind comparison?
|Pitcher B||Pitcher A|
These two pitchers definitely seem similar. So why would your team be willing to sign Arroyo (pitcher B) for a multi-year, eight-figure contract, when Aaron Harang (pitcher A) can probably provide similar results at a considerably cheaper price?
Now, it's not hard to see why your organization would be apprehensive of Harang. He's coming off a year in which he put up a 5.40 ERA in 143.1 innings, and he's 35; by contrast, Arroyo posted a 3.79 ERA in 202 innings in 2013. There's no reason to believe Harang will get better, so why even bother signing him?
As readers of this blog (and you, hopefully) know by now, ERA is a poor indicator of how well a pitcher actually pitched. In these parts, we look at other stats, such as xFIP. Arroyo and Harang are much closer in that department; whereas the former beats the latter by 161 points in ERA, the gap is only 41 points by xFIP (3.97 to 4.38). SIERA, an even more accurate prognosticator, makes the gap even smaller (4.15 to 4.22). The best argument in favor of Harang would appear to be TIPS, that fancy new ERA estimator; it paints a completely different picture, putting Harang ahead of Arroyo by 79 points (3.93 to 4.72).
Perhaps the reason for your Arroyo preference is unfamiliarity with Harang, or unfamiliarity with the recent iteration of Harang. You may remember him from such accomplishments as being the fifth-luckiest pitcher in the majors or being traded for almost nothing, then being DFAd a few months later. Last year, however, Harang flipped the script; instead of severely overperforming, he severely underperformed, as the above peripherals should indicate. This change was initiated by a new free-pass parsimony; a year removed from the third-worst walk rate in the NL, he ranked 9th in that metric in the AL. He was undermined, however, by poor fortune on fly balls (12.% HR/FB%) and stranding runners (66.4% LOB%), which caused the aforementioned unsatisfactory ERA. Likewise, Arroyo's positive results last year were primarily due to assistance from the luck dragons, but we've already covered that in great detail.
The problem with Harang, as is the problem with most pitchers, is risk of injury. Although he's only been on the DL twice in the past four years, Jeff Zimmerman still predicts a 46.1% chance that he'll go there in 2014. While this is nothing to bat an eye at, it's also important to keep in mind is that Arroyo's odds aren't much better, as Zimmerman forecasts a 40.8% chance that he'll miss some time next year. Both pitchers are old (35 and 36, respectively); at this point in their careers, damage just comes with the territory.
Overall, Harang look pretty analogous to Arroyo, and will probably provide similar dividends. The chief distinction between the two would appear to be cost; as mentioned above, Arroyo will assuredly get up to $10 million more than Harang, who might be lucky to get a major-league contract.
One would think, given the copious amounts of armchair GMs that exist today, that a person who is an actual GM might be inclined to think analytically. Your front office has already made a move that would suggest an inclination toward sabermetrics, so I'm fairly sure you are aware of the existence of advanced stats*. You would know to look past ERA and try to see the underlying causes for a pitcher's success (or lack thereof), then try to root out the players that will give you the most bang for the buck.
*Then again, this didn't help your image.
It's certainly not easy being a GM, especially for a team as indigent as your own. After trading away one of your highest-paid players in what appeared to be a cost-cutting measure, though, you've done very little to use the limited money that you have. If you hope to contend this next year, improvements have to be made, and the rotation would be a great place to make them.
In short, your team should sign Aaron Harang. If you don't, I might have to continue to pester you, possibly by writing an opprobrious article about your flawed management techniques. What would a good word for that be?
. . .
Ryan Romano writes for Beyond the Box Score, the FanGraphs Community blog, and Camden Chat that one time. Follow him on Twitter at @triple_r_ if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports and live tweeting about Community, Thursdays at 8/7c. Cool. Coolcoolcool.