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Scouting Pitchers: Aaron Harang and Jair Jurrjens

James Benkard

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Statistics as of 4/21/08

Let's face it - pitching is volatile. You need to stay on top of how they're doing in order to thrive in your fantasy league. With that in mind, let's look at Cincinnati's ace Harang and the Braves' Jurrjens. This column will be a two-fer, as we were scheduled to cover Jurrjens a couple of weeks ago.

You could make a good argument that Harang is the most underrated pitcher in baseball. He led the NL in strikeouts in 2006 and was second to Jake Peavy in 2007, but hasn't made an All-Star team or received any Cy Young consideration. Atlanta pried Jurrjens from Detroit in the Edgar Renteria trade last October. He has begun the year very solidly, posting quality starts in three of his first four outings.

I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. Please feel free to post your comments below on these columns. I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers. These velocities are suggestive and not determinant of a pitch's rating. For example, a 75 MPH curveball might rank as a 60 because of its movement and/or deception.

80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball)
70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB)
60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB)
50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB)
40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB)
30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB)
20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)

Texas originally signed the right-handed Harang (6-7, 275, born 5/9/1978) in 1999 from San Diego State with a sixth-round pick. He signed immediately and took apart Rookie and Class A ball in 1999 and 2000, but the Rangers then dealt him to Oakland. Harang went 10-8, 4.14 in the hitter-friendly Texas League in 2001, then pitched 78 1/3 innings for Oakland in 2002. After some more Triple-A seasoning and some struggles in limited duty for the A's in 2003, A's GM Billy Beane dealt Harang to Cincinnati in a package for Jose Guillen.

After an up-and-down rookie season in 2004 (10-9, 4.86), Harang broke through in 2005, going 11-13, 3.83 with a club-leading 163 strikeouts and 211 2/3 innings. He won 16 games in 2006 and 2007 and averaged 233 innings and 217 strikeouts. He pitched 10 innings against Milwaukee on July 23, 2007 but didn't get the win. This year Harang is 1-2 with a 2.83 ERA and is tied with teammate Johnny Cueto for the NL lead with 29 strikeouts. Harang has done all this despite pitching half his games in Great American Ballpark, which ESPN's Park Factor charts list as a hitter's park. The Dayton Daily News profiled him this spring as a blue-collar player.

Aaron Harang: (G/F 0.88)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	60		60
Curveball	55		20
Slider		55		10
Changeup	55		10
Control	70
Delivery	55
Composure	65

Harang threw 93-94 MPH when he came up, but since has settled into throwing an 85-87 MPH two-seam fastball with good movement and an 87-92 MPH four-seamer. He mixes in a 79-82 MPH curve, an 81-84 MPH slider and an 82-85 MPH changeup. Harang's curve and slider have similar action. He uses the curve more regularly but will turn to the slider under pressure. Harang controls the strike zone very well. He regularly nails the outside corner against right-handers with his fastball. Umpires reward Harang's consistency by giving him the benefit of the doubt on borderline calls.

Harang adapts his style to the lineup he faces and the circumstances of the game. He chews up right-handed pull hitters. They receive a steady diet of fastballs on the outside corner followed by breaking balls that gradually creep outside. Eventually Harang either gets the strike call or makes the hitter take a defensive swing that results in a weak out. Against left-handers, Harang works his fastball inside and his changeup away. While his changeup doesn't have great fade to it, hitters can't recognize it until after they have committed.

Unlike many strikeout pitchers, Harang can pitch to contact and has become more efficient over the years. He has lowered his pitches per inning from 17.0 in 2004 to 15.1 this year. Harang also becomes very stingy with runners on base. Batters have hit .264 off him in his career, but their average drops as the pressure increases: .257 with runners on, .243 with RISP, .226 with RISP and two outs, and .191 with the bases loaded. Despite allowing 127 homers in 164 career starts, Harang has given up only two grand slams. He helps himself by limiting his walks and holding baserunners close; they have been successful a mediocre 62% of the time.

Harang's margin for error is less than other premier pitchers because of the smaller amount of separation between his pitches. Since his pitches are close together in speed, there is the danger that innings can unravel on him quickly when he isn't on. This doesn't happen often since Harang is so expert at limiting damage, but it is a concern for the future.

The Reds will contend if they stay healthy, as Harang, Cueto, Edinson Volquez and Bronson Arroyo give them their best rotation in years. Their emergence could give Harang the accolades he richly deserves.

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The Tigers signed the right-handed Jurrjens (6-1, 200, born 1/28/1986) out of Andruw Jones' hometown (Willemstad) in 2003. He reached full-season ball in 2005, when he went 12-6, 3.41 at Low-A. Jurrjens really put himself on the prospect map when he split 2006 between High-A and Erie and struck out 112 in 140.2 innings as a 20-year-old. He did miss time at the end of the year with shoulder spasms.

Jurrjens spent most of 2007 at Double-A Erie, going 7-5, 3.20. He was called up on August 15, made two good starts and then went on the DL with shoulder inflammation. He came back to pitch decently in September. Jurrjens impressed Bobby Cox and his new teammates this spring as he led the club in innings (19.2), posted a 5.03 ERA and a 9-9 strikeout-walk ratio.

Jair Jurrjens: (G/F 1.45)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	60		60
Curveball	55		15
Slider		50		5
Changeup	60		20
Control	50
Delivery	50
Composure	50

Jurrjens' fastball sits comfortably at 92-93 MPH and goes as high as 95. He can sink or run it, and has improved his G/F ratio this year. Unlike many young pitchers, he can record strikeouts with low fastballs. Jurrjens likes to pitch inside, and stands up left-handed hitters by coming up and in. Sometimes he surprises hitters by nailing the inside corner with his fastball. Jurrjens often uses his 81-86 MPH changeup away from left-handers after coming at them hard inside. His change has very good movement and he will use it on consecutive pitches, even when he misses with the first one. It might become his out pitch and improve to a 70 if he harnesses it more.

Jurrjens' 77-80 MPH curveball is another good pitch. He doesn't come over the plate as much with it as he does with his fastball and change, but uses it mainly to set up his other pitches. Jurrjens also reportedly has a slider, but it's just average and arrives at the same speed as his curveball. He could be tilting his curveball to give it a slider break. It will be a challenge for Jurrjens to work his breaking pitches in more regularly, especially against left-handers. There is the risk that he will reflexively turn to his changeup in a jam.

Jurrjens' mechanics are basically sound, although his history of shoulder trouble is a red flag. He looked more tired toward the end of 2007 than he has this spring. Last September he was pitching uphill, or dropping his arm more than he should. With the Braves in 2008 he has been more compact in his delivery and economical with his pitches. Cox and pitching coach Roger McDowell have instructed Jurrjens to attack the strike zone more. Jurrjens also seems to be tipping his pitches less, another sign of maturity.

Jurrjens has a lot to recommend him despite his youth. He is talented, competitive and intelligent, as he speaks four languages. Turner Field is a pitcher's ballpark, and obviously the Braves can develop him. Jurrjens is an excellent pick in a keeper league and is contributing as we speak.

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Radar Love: (More early-season fastballs)

96: Justin Verlander against Kansas City on March 31.
96: Rich Harden versus the Red Sox in Japan on March 26.
92-94: Roy Oswalt consistently against the Padres on April 21.
93: Erik Bedard against the Rangers on March 31.
92: Brad Penny in Cincinnati on April 21.
91: Jason Isringhausen versus Colorado on April 1.
85-89: Pedro Martinez during his injury-abbreviated first start in Florida on April 1.

Efficient Starters:

Here's a list of pitchers who have had early-season success in limiting their pitches per inning:

Pitcher			P/IP		G/F		K/BB
Joe Saunders		12.7		1.16		2.0
Felix Hernandez		13.9		1.84		2.7
Adam Wainwright		14.0		1.84		3.1
Johnny Cueto		14.0		0.86		9.7
Cliff Lee			14.1		1.08		10.0
Scott Baker			14.2		0.96		5.0
Zack Greinke			14.2		1.17		1.7

As you can see, these pitchers are ranked by their pitches-per-inning. They rank in the top 20 starters in that category. I have included their groundball/flyball and strikeout/walk ratios because those are also important indicators.

I have focused on the seven pitchers out of the top 20 because:

a) they're young (or at least not old), and
b) some of them might be available in your league.

Their efficiency so far suggests more success this year.

Next week: AL West: Ervin Santana

 

Article first appeared 4/23/08