Aaron Harang thinks his struggles are 'bad luck'

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After dropping to 0-3 with an 8.31 ERA with an ugly start yesterday, Aaron Harang said: “It’s bad luck. This game’s about luck. I’m going through a bad spell right now.”
Of course, as John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer points out, the “spell” of “bad luck” doesn’t just include this season. Dating back to May of last season Harang is 1-13 with a 5.41 ERA over the span of 20 starts, during which time he’s served up 23 homers in 119.2 innings while allowing opponents to hit better than .300 against him.
And going back even further, to the start of 2008, he’s 12-34 with a 4.74 ERA in 368 innings spread over 60 starts. Now, someone with a 4.74 ERA certainly doesn’t deserve a 12-34 record, so Harang is right that he’s been unlucky in that respect, but in terms of his actual performance it’s tough to call 60 starts and 368 innings worth of below-average pitching a “spell.”
However you want to classify Harang’s terrible start to this season or 12-34 record and 4.74 ERA since 2008, manager Dusty Baker was unsure about what to do with his Opening Day starter. Baker did say that moving Harang to the bullpen like the Cubs did yesterday with Carlos Zambrano isn’t an option and finding a taker for him via trade figures to be nearly impossible unless the Reds are willing to eat a bunch of salary.
Harang will make $12.5 million for this season and his contract also has an option for 2011 that becomes $14 million or a $2.5 million buyout if he’s traded.

Gabe Kapler chooses not to bench Jean Segura for lack of effort

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The Phillies are in a tailspin. The club lost its perch atop the NL East, losing 12 of its last 18 games dating back to May 30. They enter Thursday night’s action four games behind the now-first-place Braves. The reasons for the slide are myriad, including a rash of injuries, but the players have also simply not played well. Understandably, fans are upset.

It didn’t help when, for the second time in three weeks, shortstop Jean Segura didn’t run hard on a batted ball. On June 3, Segura didn’t run on an infield pop-up that eventually resulted in a season-ending injury to Andrew McCutchen. On Wednesday during the second game of a doubleheader, Segura weakly hit a Max Scherzer pitch to shallow left-center that wasn’t caught. Because he was watching the ball rather than running hard, he had to hold up after a wide turn around first base.

To the surprise of many, Segura wasn’t pulled from the game despite the lack of effort. To the even further surprise of many, manager Gabe Kapler included Segura in Thursday’s lineup against the Nationals, which has otherwise been thoroughly reshuffled. Per Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Kapler said, “Jean is one of our eight best players. I don’t think taking one of our eight best players and our shortstop out of our lineup is what’s best for the Philadelphia Phillies.”

Kapler said he had a long talk with Segura. “I told him that we’re going to address not just him but other players in the clubhouse and we’re going to talk about the highest level of effort and talk about how we can’t win every night but we can win the game of give-a-[hoot] and be undefeated in that category. Then we can protect the Phillies by putting the best lineup together on a nightly basis and not think about making ourselves feel better by sending a message.”

Kapler hit the nail on the head with that last line. Benching Segura only makes fans and pundits feel better by punishing someone for a perceived transgression. But does it actually teach anything, and is it actually beneficial to the team? Maybe to the former, and no to the latter. Matt Winkelman of Baseball Prospectus brought up a great point on Twitter, writing, “The idea that punishment is the only way to solve a problem or change behavior is such a narrow minded idea.” People learn best in different ways. Some might respond well to punishment. Others may just need a good talking-to. It’s a case-by-case thing. Kapler is right to apply nuance to the situation.

So many of baseball’s long-held beliefs have fallen to the wayside in recent years. The idea that a player must always be punished for a lack of effort will hopefully be the next one to be taken out to the dumpster.