Appreciating Aaron Harang

Stephen Brashear

What do Felix Hernandez, Randy Johnson, and Aaron Harang have in common?

I promise there is a good reason why you are staring at Aaron Harang's face right now.

Okay, maybe not a good reason, but an interesting reason. A surprising reason, even.

In light of the Mariners trivia I posted this week, I decided to burrow into Baseball-Reference's Play Index again and take a closer look at the Game Score leaders in M's history. If you took the trivia test, you might remember that Felix Hernandez's perfect game and Eric Hanson's two-hitter were tied with a 99 GSc.

Unsurprisingly, Randy Johnson holds the second-highest, third-highest, fourth-highest, and fifth-highest GSc for the Mariners. The sixth-highest slot, however, belongs to one Aaron Harang. A 2013 Aaron Harang.

First, a brief explanation of Game Score. It was developed by Bill James as an advanced pitching metric designed to measure how dominant a pitcher's performance was in any given setting. The specifics are outlined below:

1. Start with 50 points.

2. Add one point for each out recorded, so three points for every complete inning pitched.

3. Add two points for each inning completed after the fourth.

4. Add one point for each strikeout.

5. Subtract two points for each hit allowed.

6. Subtract four points for each earned run allowed.

7. Subtract two points for each unearned run allowed.

8. Subtract one point for each walk.

The highest Game Score in major league history belongs to Joe Oeschger, a 28-year-old righty who tossed a remarkable 26 innings for the Boston Braves on May 5, 1920 for a score of 153. He struck out just seven batters, accumulating points on the GSc scale with the sheer number of outs he recorded.

Within the context of a nine-inning game, Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout performance remains the benchmark, set at 105 GSc in 1998. If you're interested, Bill James dug a bit deeper into some other notable outings from the last 50 years here.

Over the past decade, a Seattle pitcher has logged a Game Score north of 90 points only four times. Three of those four games were started by Felix, which brings us back to Harang.

On June 11, 2013, Harang faced the 22-43 Houston Astros at the tail end of a 10-game homestand. It was the 10th start of the year for the right-hander, who was dragging a 2-6 record behind him. His highest Game Score so far that season was also a career best: On May 27, he shut out the San Diego Padres on four hits and eight strikeouts for an 85 GSc. He hadn't touched 80 points in almost two years.

Granted, beating the Padres and the Astros doesn't have quite the same feel as beating, say, the Yankees or the Rangers. Harang began the game by retiring the first five batters he faced; in the second inning, J.D. Martinez plucked a single out of a four pitch at-bat. By the time Harang allowed another baserunner, he had accumulated eight strikeouts and sat down 17 Astros.

Because Game Score only accounts for baserunners who advance on hits and walks, Harang did not get docked for Brendan Ryan's misplayed groundout in the 6th inning, which allowed center fielder Brandon Barnes to reach base. Two innings later, J.D. Martinez reprised his role as the hot-hitting Astro, scooping another single with a line drive past the glove of Raul Ibanez. Fortunately, he was followed by the bottom of Houston's lineup, and Harang escaped the rest of the game with six consecutive outs.

Following the formula, here's how Harang's two-hitter panned out: 50 + 27 (outs) + 10 (5 innings completed after the 4th) + 10 (strikeouts) - 4 (2 hits) = 93 GSc. For the Mariners, this was a welcome series win, and their first of the year against Houston. For Harang, it was the second time in two weeks that he had broken career-high records.

To fit Harang's performance into a broader context, there were 19 games with a Game Score of at least 90 in MLB last season. His two-hitter ranked third-highest in the AL and seventh overall -- three points higher than Henderson Alvarez's no-hitter. While Harang may not make it into the Mariners' history books anytime soon, his shutout still makes for a decent highlight in the midst of a dismal season.

(Stay tuned next week, when I reveal Chone Figgins' place atop the leaderboards of MLB benchwarmers.)

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