Who Should The Red Sox Acquire: Rich Harden

Rich Harden of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

There has been discussion of the Red Sox interest in Erik Bedard, and possible Mariner interest in a Red Sox prospect, but he is not the lone name linked to Boston to help in the starting rotation. Rich Harden of the Oakland Athletics, another injury-riddled hurler, has also been mentioned as a possible target. 

In his last 256-1/3 innings pitched, Harden has struck out 9.4 batters per nine and posted a K/BB ratio of 2.0, just a bit under the league average (2.0 in 2009 and 2.2 the last two seasons). He has been essentially average in that stretch, with an ERA+ of 95 that has come in two hitter-friendly parks. He started last night against the Rays in Oakland for his fifth appearance of the year, and struck out seven batters while walking just two in six innings pitched. 

There are four things you can say about Rich Harden that have been true about him for years now:

  1. He will strike people out. In his career, he has punched out over a batter per inning, and has continued to miss bats even when he can't find the strike zone consistently.
  2. Leading us into #2: Harden is going to walk batters. Lots of them. The thing is, he is also notoriously difficult to hit, with a career H/9 of 7.4, and BABIP of .278, noticeably lower than the league average, especially in a sample of 869 innings.
  3. He may not give up many hits, but when he does, they travel far. Harden has allowed a homer per nine in his career despite throwing exactly one-third of his career starts in pitcher-friendly Oakland. In his last three seasons, he has allowed 1.6 homers per nine.
  4. Harden gets injured, and often. Since 2003, he has 21 entries in Baseball Prospectus's injury database, including 10 stints on the disabled list (four of them 60-day DL trips). 

Because of this, though, Harden may end up less expensive than Bedard in terms of prospect costs, since Bedard has also been linked to the Yankees. That isn't to suggest Boston should cheap out and go with Harden. He just presents less of a risk when you combine the cost with his injury history, since Bedard doesn't come out looking much better in recent years in those regards, and could come with a higher price tag via trade. 

There are negatives, as you see above: he will walk the opposition, and he will give up homers, and there is a very real chance he will become just one more Boston starter that visits the disabled list. But, in addition to the high risks, he is also a high-reward pitcher that can miss major league bats -- something Kyle Weiland and Andrew Miller have not been able to do much of -- and has the kind of upside, as long as he is on the mound, to to be the fourth starter Boston may need if their season extends into October. 

He is basically average at this stage of his career, no longer the dominating force he was back during his first stint with the Athletics. But he could help the Red Sox more than the collection of reserve starters -- including the ones who are seeing front line action -- and at a cost that could satisfy all involved. 

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