It’s only two games, but Phillies righthander Aaron Harang has been a pleasant surprise for the club this year. He’s 1-1 with a 0.73 ERA–or, just one earned run over 12.1 innings pitched. That’s 7th in the NL. He throws first pitch strikes about 70% of the time, which is good for 6th in the NL.
He had a similar start with the Braves last season, allowing just three earned runs in his first 31.2 innings pitched–a 0.85 ERA. However, this is not something that’s common for Harang. Over his career, he has a 4.25 ERA in the months of March and April, which is slightly above his career ERA.
So what makes this season different? Well, in a word, he’s benefited from a bit of luck. He’s currently allowing just a .176 average on balls in play–sixth-lowest in the NL. He also surrenders the most fly balls in the NL, but has yet to give up a home run. His first five starts with the Braves last year were very similar: low ERA with a low BABIP, a high fly ball percentage, and no home runs.
His velocity is about one MPH lower than it was through five starts last year–88-89 this year, 89-90 in 2014. But it’s still just about his career average. One thing that is different is that he’s been throwing a cutter a lot more. He throws it 16.2% of the time in 2015, but only 2.0% over his career. He’s also throwing more strikes (55.2% in the zone according to FanGraphs) and more strikes that don’t induce swings (in-the-zone swings down a whole 10%). As a result, he’s striking out more batters than usual and walking less.
It would be foolish to think he’ll keep up this pace, but if he can repeat what he did for the Braves last year–which was a 3.57 ERA in 33 starts and 204.1 innings–it would be more than enough for a Phillies team desperate for quality starting pitching.