Dan Haren is through as an effective big league hurler. That’s what you will hear from many who assess his failures in the 2012 season. I for one am not ready to throw Mr. Haren under the bus without analyzing his efforts in detail to see if he was indeed just as bad last season as some seem to think he was, or if there is still something that this dart throwing righty still has to offer in the fantasy game.
From 2005-2011 Dan Haren threw at least 215 innings each season, and his total of 1,581.1 innings was second in baseball (1,588.1 IP for CC Sabathia). He was the workhorses’ workhorse. Last season injuries sent him to the DL for the first time in his career as he threw 176.2 innings, a total most hurlers would love to achieve each year (at least he made 30 starts for the 8th straight season). Obviously his workload is a concern, sooner or later bodies break down, so it’s fair to wonder if the heavy workload that Haren has handled has led him to a point where he just cannot be counted on for huge inning totals.
Haren did win 12 games last season, a moderate total for an arm that has won at least 14 games six times. Once again, Haren and Sabathia are the only two pitchers in baseball who have won 12 games each of the last eight years. The righty and lefty duo of workloads also is the righty-lefty duo of wins.
Oh, but that ERA of Haren was terrible, considering his body of work, you say. Haren owns a 3.66 ERA for his career, and only once in the previous five years had he exceeded that mark (3.91 in 2010). So what happened with his 4.33 ERA last season? Was that high ERA “earned?” Let’s investigate.
Haren’s K/9 rate fell to 7.23, a six year low. It was only 0.02 off his 2011 mark, and just a bit below his 7.60 career mark so it’s not doom and gloom time but it is worth noting, the reduction in the rate I mean. As for his walk rate, Haren’s 1.94 BB/9 was only slightly above his 1.89 career rate. That’s an elite mark. Combine the two and you end up with a 3.74 K/BB ratio. Again, an elite mark. Yes it was a 5-year low for Haren, but the mark was still the 17th best in baseball. That would seem to indicate that Haren can still be a pretty fair hurler, even if his days of huge strikeout totals are gone.
Haren’s WHIP should never be a huge concern given that he just doesn’t put anyone on base via the walk (that fact should always help to shield him from posting poor WHIP marks). Even with last seasons down effort his 1.29 WHIP was still just below the big league average in 2012 of 1.31. That WHIP was also an eight year high by the way, and it was still better than the league average. The man owns a career mark of 1.18 and you have to be impressed by that.
I focus on homers allowed a lot, an in this respect Haren was beaten around the yard. His 1.43 mark, per nine innings, was the worst of his career. His career mark is 1.05, an over the previous five years that mark was never above 1.19. Part of the blame obviously lies at the feet of a career worst 12.8 HR/F ratio (career 10.5). Perhaps part of the blame is the loss of velocity (88.5 mph on his heater versus 90.8 for his career). That heat needs to come back. I’m not saying Haren can’t still be successful at 88.5 mph, he certainly can be, but it will obviously be more difficult without the heat for him to return to his previous elite levels. Truth be told though, the guy just knows how to pitch. I bet he could get batters out throwing 85 mph. So will the homer total regress in 2013? History says yes. Logic says yes. I say yes.
In the end, Haren isn’t likely to ever again be the hurler that struck out 223 batters with a 3.14 ERA in 2009. Still, a return to the NL with the Nationals can’t do anything but help (it also won’t hurt for him to likely be slotted as the 4th starter behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman). Plus, he’s on a one year, $13 million deal that gives the Nationals only a moderate amount of risk while providing Haren with one year to prove that he can still be an impressive hurler worthy of one last multi-year, big money deal. Haren figures to be a strong NL-only option, and I would bet that he improves on his ratio marks from last season making him a solid mixed league option as well.
By Ray Flowers