Originally posted on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 12/6/11

The Winter Meetings are moving along nicely, and just this morning it was reported that two starting pitchers have agreed to pitch in the NL West, Aaron Harang and Kevin Slowey. While neither has generated the buzz that C.J. Wilson or Mark Buehrle has — and I’m not suggesting they deserve that much buzz — these moves do have fantasy significance.

Aaron Harang Signs with the Dodgers

Harang’s career was in jeopardy during his last days in Cincinnati. From 2005-2007, Harang was one of the most consistent NL pitchers. His 3.70-3.80 ERA over that span wasn’t great by any means, but he pitched 200 innings and struck out 200 batters per season with WHIPs around 1.20. I had him on my fantasy team almost every season.

Things started to go south in 2008 as Harang lost a little velocity on his fastball and his fly ball rate moved from about 38-39 percent to around 41 percent (actually the increase in fly balls started in 2007). The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati doesn’t take too kindly to fly ball pitchers with some of the highest home run park factors in the league (120 for LHB, 130 for RHB). Harang wasn’t striking out batters like he had been during his best years and more batters were getting on base. Those home runs he’d always suffered through were getting costing him more each time, and his days as a Red were numbered.

The move to sunny San Diego last season was exactly what Harang needed. While his strikeout and walk rates were nearly identical to those in 2010 when he had a 5.32 ERA, his home run rate dropped significantly and Harang finished with 14 wins and a 3.64 ERA.

Los Angeles isn’t the pitcher’s park that San Diego is, but it’s still among the hardest places to hit a home run. For his career, Harang has always pitched pretty close to his FIP for any given season, and his 3.64 ERA last season is noticeably lower than his 4.14 FIP. Assuming Harang pitches with similar peripherals to last season, and nothing in his profile suggests he won’t, a low 4.00s ERA is a pretty good estimate. Right now my projection would be 4.25 with around a dozen wins.

Kevin Slowey Signs with the Rockies

I was among those who thought Slowey would break out in 2009, his third year in the majors. Just the year before he’d transitioned to full-time member of the Minnesota rotation and finished 12-11 with a 3.99 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Few pitchers demonstrated the command that Slowey did.

Unfortunately, few pitchers proved to be as hittable as Slowey as well. From 2009 to 2011, Slowey finished with OBAs of .302, .273 and .312, respectively. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher whose career 0.66 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio is the absolute lowest of the 116 pitchers who’ve thrown 500 innings over the span of Slowey’s career. Now he’s moving to Colorado, one of the game’s two or three worst parks for fly ball pitchers. Someone explain to me why this is a good idea?

Believe it or not, the terrible situation Slowey finds himself in is actually a blessing in disguise for the savvy fantasy manager. The NL West is a schizophrenic division as San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco are known as more pitcher friendly in terms of home runs while Colorado and Arizona are regarded as more hitter friendly. If you play your matchups right — say, by starting Slowey at San Diego or San Francisco where the parks are nice and the offenses are weak — you could get some sneakily useful starts. Since Slowey’s season stats will lucky be borderline putrid once again, I doubt anyone will own him for the long term. He’s rapidly becoming one of my sleeper spot starters for 2012.

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