Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Aaron Harang (34) throws a pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers in the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Harang and Gavin Floyd defy expectations for Atlanta Braves

The pitching duo of Gavin Floyd and Aaron Harang will earn a total of $5 million as members of the Atlanta Braves for the 2014 season.

Read that sentence again, and remember that $5 million would be considered a bargain-basement price for one reasonably solid starting pitcher.

Both Floyd and Harang arrived in Atlanta under non-traditional circumstances, but the fact that the 36-year-old Harang wasn’t on the radar until late March makes his tale all the more intriguing. There was a significant portion of “Braves Country” who panned the move to let Freddy Garcia walk in favor of giving the seemingly ageless Harang a $1 million contract, but the returns have been incredible.

The big right-hander has displayed a refined arsenal that has been quite sharp despite his relative lack of velocity. Harang has averaged less than 90 miles per hour on his fastball through 13 starts and more than 78 innings, but with that, he has struck out nearly a batter per inning (8.85 per 9 innings) in compiling a very solid 3.33 ERA. In reality, Aaron Harang has significantly outperformed his one-year contract in just two months, as he has amassed more than 1.0 WAR for both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference, and even if he were to evaporate into thin air at this stage, Frank Wren would prove justified by a wide margin.

While Harang was basically acquired as a swap for Freddy Garcia and given an immediate role, the Braves inked Gavin Floyd to a 1-year contract in December under more interesting circumstances. The 31-year-old had missed virtually all of the 2013 season as a result of Tommy John surgery, and as a result, Atlanta received a fairly significant discount when compared to the open market. With that said, the Braves had five “healthy” starters (if you can count Brandon Beachy) before signing Floyd, and the acquisition seemed to be a depth play to bolster an already solid foundation.

After another sterling performance from Floyd on Monday evening, the right-hander currently boasts a sparkling 2.57 ERA over seven starts (42 innings), and he has been incredibly solid despite his late arrival. Much of the fanfare with regard to Atlanta’s staff has gone to Harang, simply because of his incredibly story of resurgence, but Floyd has been every bit as effective on a per-inning basis, and he seems to be well on his way to exceeding any full-season expectation.

In the never-ending argument concerning Frank Wren’s job performance, the acquisitions of Harang and Floyd serve as a shining star. Yes, there is certainly an argument that one or both of the veteran right-handers could struggle and even be usurped by the return of Alex Wood to the rotation, but in understanding value against cost, it would be impossible not to praise the moves on a depth basis. In addition, the work of pitching coach Roger McDowell cannot go unnoticed, as he has routinely helped in turning around reclamation projects, and Atlanta’s knack for getting value out of their pitching staff can be directly tied to his efforts.

Expectations for the remainder of the season seem to be wide-ranging for both pitchers. Floyd is currently outperforming his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) by more than a full run on his ERA, indicating that there is some potential regression, but in the case of Harang, his 3.33 ERA mark actually sits higher than his FIP of 2.93. Both pitchers have highly respectable strikeout-to-walk numbers as well, lending credence to their sustainability, and with no injury concern at this point, projecting something reasonably close to their current production isn’t completely unreasonable.

Should we expect the next 120 combined innings to go as swimmingly as the first 120 innings? Probably not. Still, Aaron Harang and Gavin Floyd have been revelations of the highest order for the Atlanta Braves, and in a season where the offense has been lackluster, the duo has been one of the chief reasons why the team remains atop the NL East in mid-June.

Tags: Aaron Harang Atlanta Braves Gavin Floyd

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