After 5 years of :”always being hurt” with a torn capsule, Rich Harden last week had surgery, aiming to come back in 2013–healthy. Finally.
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) February 9, 2012
Just about everyone and their humorless sister took to Twitter over the past 24 with their laziest jokes. You see, Peter Gammons announced that Rich Harden underwent surgery (at the hands of the ligament pimp of Birgmingham, Dr. James Andrews) to repair a six-year old shoulder injury and will miss the entire upcoming season.
A free agent after the 2011 season, Harden presented an enticing option for teams entranced by his overwhelming stuff. Unable to catch on anywhere as teams’ were surely wary of his health. Or lack thereof.
Harden thinks he will be back, claiming his string of minor injuries and setbacks all relate back to this single problem, the torn right shoulder capsule dogging him since 2007.
“If you look at those injuries, that’s definitely where they came from,” Harden said. “Yes, I’ve been injured a lot, but nobody really knew what I’d been dealing with for five years. Every day, just to play catch, I had to re-train my body to throw. I was pushing the ball. I’d start the game throwing 86-87 mph and that was max effort.”
Rich Harden has some of the very best stuff mine eyes ever saw. The kind of stuff that makes you forget all the home runs (58 served up over 315+ innings since 2009, or 1.7 per 9) and the inability to stay healthy. He racked up eye-popping strikeout numbers no matter where he pitched. The powered him to a career mark of more than one per inning, striking out just under 25% of the hitters he faced in his big league career.
You may notice the past tense in the previous sentence because, well, this looks like it might be the end of Rich Harden’s career. Despite never pitching more than 190 innings in a single season, Harden posted two 4.5 fWAR seasons and one just shy of that mark (3.9 fWAR.) Even the usually skeptical Baseball Reference WAR loves Harden, assigning him 16 fWAR in his 900 career innings, including 5.2 rWAR in 2008, split between Oakland and Chicago.
If this is the end of Rich Harden, it is a damn shame. One of the most exciting pitchers in recent memory, who also happens to have a Canadian passport. Harden’s canukitude is the, um, moose in the room here. Would this blog post be written if Harden was just another California bro with a mind-bending fork ball/change up thing, probably not.
But here we are, lamenting what could have been for another live-armed phenom who only managed to hold it together for months at a time. What could have been is a powerful thing, though. Not many who watched Harden and Dave Bush(!) lock horns in an epic afternoon battle in Oakland will forget the kind of thing (only one game in each of 2010 & 2011 featured Game Scores greater than 82 from each starter) will ever believe Rich Harden was anything short of a Hall of Fame pitcher.
Good luck, Rich. Hopefully he heals and returns and pitches again. The great Canadian baseball tragedy, the kid with stuff for days, the ultimate what could have been.