Armed with all the talent in the world, Rich Harden is both a nightmare and a blessing. Signing him is the equivalent of playing black or red at the roulette table – it’s a 50/50 proposition you win. If you do come out victorious, he’ll still end up on the disabled list at some point, but in the end you’re team will have gotten more out of him than you previously imagined when signing him. If you lose, well, you seem to lose a lot with Rich Harden.
And that’s not to say Harden is a loser, he’s not. Losing really isn’t in his vocabulary at the major league level.
Through eight up and down seasons, Harden has gone 55-34 with a 3.36 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. Injuries have set him back nearly every year he’s pitched – Harden only has one season with more than 30 starts. But man, if he isn’t the ultimate high risk/high reward pitcher, then I don’t know if one exists.
Harden’s laser fastball no longer has the zip it once did. According to FanGraphs Pitch F/X, his velocity dropped from 94.1 in 2007 to 90. 8 in 2010 with that fastball. With that, the speed on the rest of his pitches has dropped as well. Also sinking like a brick were his overall numbers.
Following a magnificent 2008 campaign that saw Harden go 10-2 with an ERA a shade above two, ’09 and ’10 were true regression years as he again failed to stay on the mound. During those two years he tossed a combined 233 innings and had finished 2010 with an ERA above five. His K/9 went from 11.3 in ’08 to just 7.3 in ’10. His BB/9 went from 0.8 to 1.8 during that same time, the worst of his career.
Harden’s name is being thrown around the Winter Meetings as we speak. Guys with his pedigree – although it’s a damaged one – will always continue to resurface as long as he can throw. GM’s are enamored with that kind of talent. But how will he be used? There is talk that moving him to the bullpen would be a prudent one. Not only would it benefit his career for the long haul (hopefully cutting down on the injuries and lengthening it) but also provide the team with a decent seventh-inning threat.
Last year Harden received $7.5 million on a one-year deal – starter-money from the Texas Rangers. It’s unlikely he’ll be commanding that sort of contract this time around.
The Phillies are currently in the market for relatively cheap bullpen arms and Harden could fit the bill if he’s ready to admit that starting is no longer the path to take.