The Breakdown: Aaron Harang's great performance

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Last night saw Aaron Harang continue his early season dominance. I share my thoughts on whether this is real or a mirage.

Up until yesterday, Aaron Harang's velocity was up compared to last season. In speaking with him after the game, I was under the assumption that his velocity was still up, but his average speed on all of his pitches was actually down yesterday which has brought his velocity back down to the same levels it was last year. I just wanted to preface that with a few of the things I spoke with him about and some of the other observations I have taken away from his early season performance.

Here are some quotes I got from Harang last night after the game, followed by my take on what to expect of Harang going forward.

More Harang: "Ihad this happen a few year back in San Diego. Fredisaid he's looking out for me so I can keep making starts."

— Ben Duronio (@Ben_Duronio) April 19, 2014

Harang: "It's good to know there's someone looking out for your best interests. It's easier to take because it happened in SD so recently"

— Ben Duronio (@Ben_Duronio) April 19, 2014

It has been both great and baffling to see Harang perform like he has this season after the big struggles he had last season. What I always like to try and do is keep things in perspective. There are hot streaks, there are cold streaks, and then there is genuine improvements and genuine declines. At CAC this is something we focused on heavily,, and some fans and readers occasionally got upset when we made bold-ish statements based on numbers and not opinions.

Based on the eye test, Harang has been really impressive. He has pitched to the quality of the defense and park, which means he has allowed a lot of fly balls. Having Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, and Justin Upton in the outfield while playing in a park that is not small like Turner Field allows him to have the second highest fly ball percentage in the league and still be successful. Last year Mike Minor pitched similarly in that regard, with the fourth highest fly ball percentage, and he had a breakout season.

The confusing part is that Harang has allowed all of these fly balls but none have landed over the fence. That is going to change and it will probably change soon. In looking at his ERA and FIP, you get some nice looking numbers from Harang. However, in looking at his xFIP and SIERA, which standardize home run per fly ball rates, Harang looks more-or-less like he did last season.

Aaron Harang FB% HR/FB xFIP SIERA
2013 44.3% 12.7% 4.38 4.14
2014 54.2% 0.0% 4.45 4.48

So, it is pretty safe to assume that the home runs will start coming back pretty soon, especially if his fly ball rate stays this high. Hopefully they are going to be of the solo variety more often than not. Another concern is that his walks are up, including in his great outing yesterday evening where he walked six against five strikeouts. He has forced a good amount of weak contact, but the Braves have had a rotation full of zone pounders the past few years and I expect they notice that he has issued free passes at a higher than normal rate. This is the kind of thing that won't look like an issue until it is known to everyone as an issue. Right now it looks like he is nibbling and working around hitters he wants to avoid. When runs are piling up it will look like he lacks command. I think he's being cautious, but it's a dangerous game to issue free passes at the rate he has been issuing them.

What do I expect going forward? I think these four starts point out that it is an aberration more than a considerable improvement. I see things in his numbers that show pitching as he has can lead to continual success with this roster, mainly the fly ball tendencies and the increased usage of his slider, but I also see an elevated walk rate and fortunate luck when it comes to keeping the ball in the yard.

I don't think anyone will be surprised if Harang turns back into a pumpkin. The Braves may have a decision to make over the next few weeks, and Fredi Gonzalez was adamant about keeping Harang healthy "so he could make 25 more starts," last night. The Braves won't remove him from the rotation until he struggles, so we just have to hope that his leash doesn't get overly extended when that does end up happening. For now, enjoy the ride but temper expectations.

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