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Does familiarity matter with Mariners’ Aaron Harang?

By Gary Hill

Aaron Harang took the mound for the first time as a Mariner on April 16 versus the Detroit Tigers.

He was saddled with the loss after chucking five innings and yielding three runs. All three of those runs were driven in by the mighty Miguel Cabrera, who drove in a run with a single in the first inning and then blasted a two-run homer in the fifth. Cabrera has been munching on American League hurlers all season to the tune of a .366 batting average, 29 homers and 93 RBIs.

Mariners starter Aaron Harang has fared much better this season against teams from the National League, where he has spent the majority of his career. (AP)

It was interesting to hear what Harang, a long-time National League pitcher, said about Cabrera after the game:

“I think we really have to worry about not letting him beat us and making the rest of their team actually beat us. I think it was something obviously not having been in the American League and seeing these guys a lot might have changed my aspect of how I would have pitched to him.”

Harang has spent 10 of his 12 big league years pitching in the NL for the Reds, Dodgers and Padres. All but 36 of his 308 Major League starts have come wearing the uniform of an NL team.

Keep the Cabrera comment in mind when you consider Harang’s splits against NL and AL teams this season.

Against NL: 2-1, 2.17 ERA, 4 starts, 29 IP, 7 ER.
Against AL: 2-7, 7.17 ERA, 11 starts, 54 IP, 43 ER.

The Houston Astros are included in the AL numbers for Harang, but he has been facing them for over a decade as an NL team. Here are what the numbers look like when you add the Astros to the NL column:

Against the NL and Houston: 3-1, 1.66 ERA, 5 starts, 38 IP, 7 ER.
Against the AL without Houston: 1-7, 8.60 ERA, 10 starts, 45 IP, 43 ER.

Here is a breakdown of his opponents this year in terms of familiarity:

National League and Houston:

May 7 at Pirates: 26 career starts against
May 27 vs. Padres: 16 career starts against
June 11 vs. Astros: 27 career starts against
June 29 vs. Cubs: 27 career starts against
July 5 at Reds: 3 career starts against, but started 213 games for them as recently as 2010.

American League without Astros:

April 16 vs. Tigers: 4 career starts against.
April 21 at Texas: 5 career starts against.
April 26 vs. Angels: 6 career starts against.
May 1 vs. Orioles: 2 career starts against.
May 21 at Angels: 6 career starts against.
June 1 at Twins: 2 career starts against.
June 6 vs. Yankees: 1 career start against.
June 17 at Angels: 6 career starts against.
June 22 vs. A’s: 2 career starts against (started 21 games for them, but none since 2003. No current A’s player was on that team).
July 10 vs. Red Sox: 4 career starts against.

This may just be a case of a small sample size producing an interesting yet coincidental result. However, maybe there is more at play. Perhaps familiarity is helping breed positive results.