Key Stats: He has missed ten or more starts in a season seven straight years. He has struck out 9.4 batters per 9 innings for his career. He once threw a change up so devestating the hitter was out on his front foot before the pitch was thrown. He is the most interesting man in fantasy baseball. “I don’t always pitch, but when I do, I prefer to be filthy.”
Skeptics Say: Rich Harden is not in the same category of Mark Prior, but his name sure is linked to him a lot. The guy is always hurt. From one perspective that doesn’t matter much in fantasy baseball. Just like Erik Bedard, Harden is worth owning when he is healthy because he is going to give you more than a borderline free agent who is more reliable. From another perspective though, what happens when Harden isn’t healthy. Teams last year that owned Harden and Jose Reyes, or Harden and Josh Hamilton, and were forced to carry DL players on the bench were fighting an uphill battle in the short term. Harden will get drafted despite the eventual arm problem because the strikeouts and dominant potential can carry a team, but the team drafts Harden has to balance that risky pick with more risk averse picks at their other slots.
Even if a manager does everything to help get a healthy team, there’s still a possibility that any player can go on the DL. Deciding when to cut ties with Harden is a lot easier said than done.
Peer Comparison: Harden is going to lose out in free agency because of his durability, but a guy that hasn’t pitched in April since the 2007 season is the most sought after arm of the 2010 free agent class. For a team looking to win now, John Lackey is a better and safer option than Harden. He deserves more money and more years than Harden, but I don’t want my favorite team to give him all of that. From a fantasy perspective I want the cheaper option (by several rounds) of Harden. Here’s why:
1. April. No owner wants to play catch up.
Lackey in April 2008 – DNP
Harden in April 2008 – Made one 5 inning start
Lackey in April 2009 – DNP
Harden in April 2009 – 2 wins 3.86 ERA 1.19 WHIP 35 strikeouts
2. Strikeouts. True Lackey has more innings, but both the cumulative strikeouts and the strikeout rate favor Harden.
Lackey in 2008 – 130K or 7.16 K/9
Harden in 2008 – 181K or 11 K/9
Lackey in 2009 – 139K or 7.09 K/9
Harden in 2009 – 171K or 10.91 K/9
3. FIP or ERA
Lackey in 2008 – Had a 4.53 FIP and a 3.75 ERA
Harden in 2008 – Had a 2.95 FIP and a 2.07 ERA
Lackey in 2009 – Had a 3.73 FIP and a 3.83 ERA
Harden in 2009 – Had a 4.35 FIP and a 4.09 ERA
Lackey will be 31 on Opening Day and Harden will be 29. It’s not much, but if all things are equal you’d expect a 29 year old to outperform a 31 year old.
Team Outlook: One report from Fox Sports has Harden going to the Nationals. This would make absolutely no sense. Harden is a Type B free agent meaning the Nationals would have to give up a sandwich pick to get him. This is a team who’s two brightest rotation hopefuls have never pitched professionally (Stephen Strasburg) or who could miss the season due to injury (Jordan Zimmermann). With that type of staff, there’s no point in losing a potential quality opportunity to add to that youth in the draft in order to add the very symbol of uncertainty.
What They’re Saying: CBS Sportsline: #43 Starting Pitcher; ESPN.com: #190 Overall; Yahoo: #63 Starting Pitcher and #239 Overall; Mock Draft Central ADP: #202 Overall; Couch Managers: #171 Overall; FB 365: #36 Starting Pitcher
Projection: Harden was worse in 2009 than in 2008 when he was the 23rd overall ranked player by Yahoo in large part because of the long ball. His HR:FB rate climbed almost 9%, and that rate will have to come down. Keep your fingers crossed that he stays in the NL.
10 wins 3.50 ERA 1.22 WHIP 175K in 147 innings
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