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.