Fantasy owners and major league executives have been drawn to the promise of Rich Harden since he was called up by the Oakland A's in 2003. In a career derailed by injuries, Harden has compiled a 59-36 record with a 9.76 K/9, a 3.65 ERA and an impressive 3.95 xFIP. He was able to compile these numbers despite only making more than 30 starts once in his career.
In terms of overall stuff, Harden has improved since his disastrous 2010 season with the Texas Rangers, when he finished the season with a 5.58 ERA (5.67 xFIP), a 7.34 K/9 (a career low) and a 6.34 BB/9 (a career high) in 92 innings pitched. His average fastball velocity has improved from 90.7 mph last season to 91.7 mph this season.
His overall swinging strike percentage has improved from 7.7 percent last season, another career worst, to 11.5 percent this season. In terms of the percentage of total swings, his fastball missed count improved from 13.4 percent to 18.8 percent this season.
However, Harden's success has come as a result of his one off-speed pitch. He can apply his change-up grip to allow the pitch to act as a change/splitter type of pitch that goes down-and-in to a right-handed batter. He can also make the same pitch act as a slider that moves away from a right-handed batter. Last season, the pitch recorded a miss on 23.7 percent of all pitches swung at, and that number has improved to 35.4 percent this season.
Harden had one of the most impressive starts of his career on Friday night against the Toronto Blue Jays—throwing seven shutout innings while striking out 11. He only allowed two hits and four walks (three coming against Jose Bautista) in those seven innings. Overall, he had a 20.9 percent swinging strike rate during the game. His fastball had a 13.5 percent swinging strike rate, but his off-speed pitch recorded a 34.1 percent rate.
In 53 innings this season, Harden has compiled a 3.91 ERA with a 10.19 K/9 and a 4.08 BB/9. His xFIP of 3.71 indicates that he has pitched slightly better than his ERA would indicate, and he is definitely worth a pick up in most fantasy leagues if he is still available. However, it may be only a matter of time before he breaks hearts once more.