If the Tigers don’t work out a trade for Matt Garza, they still have the task of deciding upon a 5th starter. In the past couple of weeks, I have suggested a couple of expensive options here and here, but using a more sensible approach, this may be a guy the Tigers would like to take a gamble on. Recently, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has stated that he is looking for a “swingman”, which is basically code for cheap, insurance SP who can throw some in the bullpen. Look no further than Rich Harden.
Former top prospect Harden had all of the tools to be a front of the rotation starter. He threw 95 MPH, and had a knockout slider and splitter. However, he has had an injury-riddled career, and is typically only healthy for about 15 starts a season. For the Tigers though, that’s a perfect match. Typically, Harden has a flare up with his shoulder at some point around June 1. Right around that time hopefully, is when Jacob Turner will be ready to take Harden’s spot in the rotation. When Harden heals up, he can come back for the stretch run, and would probably have success as a 7th or 8th inning bullpen guy.
Last season, Harden’s peripherals looked pretty decent, with the exception of an exorbitant home run rate. While Rich has always given up HR, at a rate of one per 9 innings, his HR/9 shot up to 1.85 last season, and definitely attributed to his 5.12 ERA and 4.69 FIP. However, his 9.91 K/9, 3.38 BB/9, and 2.94 K/BB are pretty solid numbers. Harden’s xFIP however, which normalizes HR/FB%, was 3.68, and his SIERA was a similar 3.47. In terms of BABIP, he was much more unlucky than normal, posting a .315 on balls in play, much higher than his .279 career number. As a fly ball pitcher, that number should come down, since batted balls are twice as likely to be outs on fly balls than ground balls. Also, of pitchers who threw 80 IP last season, Rich had the third highest swinging strike rate, at 12.0%.
Bill James predicts 121 IP next season, with a 4.02 ERA and 4.38 FIP. With a normalization of peripherals, that is a decent estimate. On a 1MM flier, maybe with a couple of incentives, the deal could definitely pay dividends. It’s a low risk move. Of course, there is always the option to stick Harden in the bullpen right away, since the Tigers have an opening for a swing-and-miss righty, with Al Alburquerque sidelined for the foreseeable future.