Is Reds’ Opening Day starter jinxed?

Let me preface this by saying I’m not hating, just presenting facts.

It fascinates me the way people talk about how strong our starting rotation is and the impressive field of candidates for the No. 5 spot in the rotation – when Opening Day starter Aaron Harang is 12-31 over the past two seasons.

And yes, I’m well aware that Harang finished fourth in Cy Young voting in 2007. But put into perspective just how badly he struggled in 2008 and 2009.

Harang had a .261 winning percentage in 2008 (45th out of 45 National League starters who pitched at least 162 innings) followed by .300 in 2009 (46th out of 46 NL starters who pitched at least 162 innings). That’s pretty incredible to finish dead last among NL starters (with the minimum 1 inning pitched per game played by his team) in consecutive seasons.

He’s got by far the worst winning percentage among that group of “workhorse starters” over the two seasons combined.

And he was only two losses away from becoming the first since 1979-1980 to lead his league in losses in consecutive seasons.

And he’s not just part of our rotation … he’s our Opening Day starter!

Hard luck, you say? The Reds don’t give him any run support?

Then explain these numbers …

2006: 3.76 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 9.3 H/9, 8.3 K/9, 1.1 HR/9, 2.2 BB/9
2007: 3.73 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.3 H/9, 8.5 K/9, 1.1 HR/9, 2.0 BB/9
2008: 4.78 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 10.0 H/9, 7.5 K/9, 1.7 HR/9, 2.4 BB/9
2009: 4.21 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 10.3 H/9, 7.9 K/9, 1.3 HR/9, 2.4 BB/9

In 2008, just once did he leave the game in position for a win but the game was blown by the bullpen. (In comparison, that happened to Johan Santana seven times that season.) In 2009, it happened again to Harang – once.

I’d love to know what the worst previous-season record was for ANY Opening Day starter – which not even baseball-reference.com can tell you.

But as far as the Reds are concerned, Harang’s win-loss is as bad as it’s been.

In 2004, Cory Lidle was coming off a 12-15 season. In 2002, Joey Hamilton was coming off a 6-10 year (between the Blue Jays and Reds). Those are the worst going all the way back to the Big Red Machine; Mario Soto was coming off a 12-15 season when he started in ’86, but his ERA in 1985 was a respectable 3.58.

Finally, to the question posed in the subject of the post …

Harang had great 2006 and 2007 campaigns after making Opening Day starts both years. But in 2008 he led the National League in losses with 17 (accompanied by just six wins) and he followed that up with 6-14 in 2009.

Split decision. But before Harang, there’s no denying that getting an Opening Day start for the Reds hasn’t done any hurler any good for quite some time.

2005 Opening Day starter Paul Wilson went 1-5 that season, his worst – and last – as a Major Leaguer.

2004 Opening Day starter Cory Lidle was 7-10 with the Reds that season before getting traded to Philadelphia (where he finished strong – 5-2, 3.90 ERA – of course).

2003 Opening Day starter Jimmy Haynes went 2-12 in ’03. In ’02, Joey Hamilton went on to go 4-10.

2001 Opening Day starter Pete Harnisch went 1-3 in seven starts, never pitching in the Majors again.

In ’99, Brett Tomko was 5-7 in his final season as a Red. In ’98, Mike Remlinger was 8-15.

In ’97, John Smiley was 9-10 as a Red and then 2-4 as an Indian … and then he, too, was done in the Majors.

In ’96, Pete Schourek went 4-5 (a year after finishing second in NL Cy Young voting at 18-7).

It’s impressive, really: You have to go all the way back to Jose Rijo’s four-year string of Opening Day starts from ’92 to ’95 (and even Rijo only went 5-4 in ’95 before calling it quits for the first time) to find a Reds Opening Day starter who didn’t struggle badly during one of the seasons in which he had made the Opening Day start. But they are all pitchers who had performed well enough for a year or two before that managers felt they were deserving of Opening Day starts.

It’s uncanny the way many of these guys went on to suffer the worst year of their careers after opening the season for the Reds.

Go back any further, by the way, and the jinx doesn’t apply, because you run into names like Browning, Soto, Seaver, Billingham, Gullett, et al.

I realize Bronson Arroyo reportedly turned down the opportunity to start on Opening Day, but I still find it somewhat mind-boggling that the Reds are giving Harang the start again in spite of his struggles over the past two seasons – regardless of what you blame them on (pitching four innings of relief on two days rest in the 18-inning loss to the Padres in May of ’08, coming out after the 2-hour rain delay last season … or whatever excuse).

Has Harang – who will make his fifth Opening Day start – fared particularly well ON Opening Day itself? No, he’s 1-3 (though they’ve lost 2-1 and 4-2 the past two years).

I hope Harang turns it around and has a great year as much as the next Reds fan … just one of those things that make you wonder.

6 Comments

  1. KerryNo Gravatar

    Here we go again… A pitcher’s win-loss record is about the worst stat to use when evaluating his actual performace.

    Yes, his numbers have slipped a bit in the past two seasons, but that can be easily explained with two word… Dusty Baker…

    From redlegnation.com

    Harang HAS been “the pitcher of old” early in each of the past two seasons. Two very questionable decisions by the Reds coaches may have contributed to Harang’s poor aggregate performance over the past two seasons. I’m speaking of his bullpen appearance in an 18 inning game in San Diego, and his pitching after a two-hour rain delay against Houston to gain a W.

    Year W – L Games IP ERA WHIP
    2008 up to SD 2 – 6 12 78.2 3.32 1.19
    2008 after SD 4 – 11 18 105.2 5.88 1.52

    2009 up to Hou 5 – 4 10 64.1 3.36 1.31
    2009 after Hou 1 – 10 16 98.0 4.78 1.48

    The following combines these before and after periods from 2008-2009 and compares them to the Aaron Harang we knew from 2005-2007.

    W – L Games IP ERA WHIP BB/9 K/9 K/BB
    Up to “misuse” 7 – 10 22 143.0 3.34 1.24 2.1 8.1 3.8
    After “misuse” 5 – 21 34 203.2 5.35 1.50 2.6 7.4 2.8

    2005-07 43 – 30 102 677.2 3.77 1.23 2.1 7.9 3.8

    http://redlegnation.com/2010/02/19/will-aaron-harang-bounce-back/

    Harang will be just fine, as long as Dusty doesn’t try anything funny again.

    Let’s hope he has learned his lesson

  2. As we know, only two other Reds have pitched 5 consecutive Opening Days. After Pete Donohue’s fifth Opening Day start in 1927, he finished the season 6-16. That was after two consecutive 20+ win seasons and he never won more than 10 games in a season after that. After Mario Soto’s fifth Opening Day start in 1986 he finished the season 5-10. After his five wins that year he only won six games over the next two seasons. He retired after that.

    Whackreds.com

  3. RyanNo Gravatar

    You want to know why Harang is the Opening Day starter? You hinted at it in your post. It tends to curse Reds’ pitchers. Why not let the curse continue instead of relegating Bailey or Cueto or Arroyo to the cellar for the season! Of course I’m only partially kidding.

  4. DaveNo Gravatar

    That’s a good point, Ryan

  5. praying for a good year. Had a son 19 years ago. drought drought drought since then. not his fault. got opening day tickets?

    steve

  6. DanNo Gravatar

    Yep! Got some Opening Day tickets. We’ll be at “Opening Night” as well.

    We’re hoping for a good year as well.

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