Nationals Baseball: Haren thoughts of the less quick variety

Monday, December 10, 2012

Haren thoughts of the less quick variety

Hey coming through with something I promised, good for me.

One of the things I said in my quick thoughts on Friday was that Haren "earned" his 2012.  He pitched as poorly as he every had, getting worse on a bunch of little things and it was reflected in his ERA. A deeper look confirms this.

BB-rate went way up from 1.25 in 2011 to 1.94 in 2012
HR/9 went way up from 0.76 to 1.43
HR/FB % up from 7.5% to 12.8%
LD% up from 19.5% to 20.7%

Combine that with a little bad luck (BABIP up from .272 to .302) and you get your bad (for-him) season. The fancy way of saying that is with xFIP. Unlike 2010, where some crazy bad luck with the D-backs caused a spike in his ERA even th ugh he pitched well (xFIP 3.49), Haren had an xFIP of 4.00 last year to go along with his 4.33 ERA. 

Optimists will point to 2011 and say that's as good as Haren can be. I would agree. That IS as good as Haren can be.  In fact, that was probably his career year.  Look at his career numbers.  BB-rate: 1.89.   HR/9: 1.05.  HR/FB: 10.5%. LD% : 19.9%  BABIP: .301  While his numbers were a bit up in 2012 here and there, some were pretty much on target.  In 2011, they were ALL down. That's what makes a special year. Congratulations 2011 Angels on your luck. Haren will likely never be that good again.

Am I being too rash?  Alone none of the "bad" numbers I've shown is all that concerning (in fact a 1.94 BB-rate is still good enough for Top 10 in the majors) .  Together though... together you have to start to wonder about the trend.  You start to look for explanations.

Baseball Press had an article that noted that Haren's velocity has been continuously dropping. This is perfectly in line with a guy who is starting to enter the down side of his career.  His fastball is becoming less and less effective as the years go on. In 2011 he was able to compensate for that with a phenomenal cutter and he threw it all the time. But for whatever reason (injury? overuse?) his cutter was far less effective in 2012.  While Haren still had his control, without that cutter he didn't have a single pitch he could use as an "out" pitch.  His fastball is now hittable, his curveball has never been great, and his decent split finger is less effective without the fastball to set it up.

Yes but what about the Nats defense! The Nats defense could possibly make him much better right? Well sure, the Nats had a great BABIP from their defense.  .282 was one of the best in the league. The Angels had a team BABIP of .277.  Meaning their defense was even better at turning hit balls into outs.  Now there are vagaries and all to that - how many fly balls were hit, foul ground, etc. etc. but the point is the Nats defense isn't going to be much better than the Angels.  And even if it were Haren is not a ground ball pitcher. Only 39.6% of his hits were ground balls (that's near the low end for qualifying starters) and his 43.2% lifetime percentage was lower than what every Nats starter did last year.

Also - I never like pitchers that are injury risks.  After maybe missing a start or two over 7 seasons, Haren finally missed some significant time with an injury that's big enough to make some teams turn away, and make the Nats make sure he passed that physical (anyone here trust the Nats staff doing a physical? Me neither)

Hmmm, the above sounds a lot bleaker than it needs to be. Basically if you take everything above and boil it down I'm saying this : Dan Haren is a pitcher on the down side of his career.

But just because I don't think he's going to roll into DC and pitch like a #1 pitcher doesn't mean the outlook on him is bleak. Dan Haren was a pitcher who at his peak was one of the better pitchers in the league.  I'd hesitate to call him elite, but certainly a deserving #1 for some team.  Therefore a Dan Haren early into the down side of his career is still a good pitcher to have in your rotation. Haren still has fantastic control and enough savvy to make it work for him.  I think something like last year's ERA is probably likely and have a hard time seeing a healthy Haren do much worse that that.  There is nothing here saying "collapse".  A 2012 Haren gives the Nats exactly the results EJax did. That was good enough for 95 wins with 80% of Strasburg and Wang pitching a month worth of games. And hell, you never know if there is one more lucky BABIP year out there for the guy.

All in all I still like the deal. 


Carl the Big Fool said...

"I never like pitchers that are injury risks"

In other words, all of them?

Harper said...

Well pitchers that have an injury history or have had a decently major one in the last year or two and are around 30 or over so.... maybe just 50% of them.

Zimmerman11 said...

"enough savvy to make it work for him" does not sound like our favorite soulless automaton... what sabermetric stats support "savvy"?

Harper said...

Z11 - SV%...OH! That's "Save Percentage"! That makes a lot more sense

(While he lacks a great out pitch his cutter, curve and split are all at least ok pitches. Given that his fastball has been so flat in recent years stands to reason he's had to have a good mix of these pitches to keep from being hit really hard.)

Morocco Nat said...

Harper, do you see a difference in the first half vs. the second half of Haren's 2012 season? Folks are saying he looked better during the 2nd half. Do the numbers show that? If so, could that change your thoughts on him, particularly in regards to him finally being healthy in the 2nd half of last year?

Donald said...

For a team picking up Haren in hopes that he could repeat 2011 and lead the staff, this would be a bad deal. But for the Nats that really only need him to be a #5 innings eater, I think it's good.

Will he be better than Lannan or EJax, though?

Todd Boss said...

Haren pitched through a back injury the entirety of 2012. I would say just throw it out the window. A sinkerballer who depends on getting downward movement on his pitch suddenly is pitching through back pain? No wonder his fly ball rate (and along with it his era/fip and every other major pitching category) rose.

I think you have to look at 2011 as the comp. I fully expect something slightly marginally regressed from his 2011 performance. Which, for a #4 starter in the NL, should be absolutely fantastic.

Harper said...

MN - short answer is I'd be more inclined to believe it if he was good ALL 2nd half but he had a pretty mediocre August (plus soem LOB% and BABIPs that were in his favor) because of that I'm going to hold off saying "these months count, but these ones don't"

Donald - Better than Lannan yes. Better than E Jax maybe not but would E Jax take a 1-yr deal? And Nats fans were turning on him so cut bait and get E Jax II, with more potential to be better, less to be worse.

Harper said...

TB - can't just pick a career year though and say "This is the comp"

I think he'll be better than last year but last year he was more a 4.25 ERA guy who happened to get a 4.00 ERA. Given the move to NL... I'd say he's a 3.90 ERA pitcher or so and let's see which way luck takes him.

BlueLoneWolf said...

Here's my question: EJax was also Wheel of Fortune, where you could spin for a couple innings and randomly hit the bankrupt and give up four runs. Was Haren at least a consistent stable bad when he was bad, or a deceptive bad like Jackson who would cruise for two innings then blow up in the third or fourth, or blow up in the first and then cruise for seven more? I guess when my pitchers fail, I hope they fail enough to get yanked before they blow up again rather than being deceptive and blowing up in stages or in random innings.

Wally said...

This was an interesting post: it had the feel of an 'everyone is praising this deal so I'll take the contrarian view', but then your last paragraph kind of summarizes it in a positive way consistent with how others have reacted to it.

I think the biggest things to me are (i) how concerning is the FB velo drop, and (ii) do we expect more back (or hip, I guess) recurrence. He was about 2 mph off his career average last year, but only 1 mph off his stellar 2011 number. For a guy with pinpoint control, which I think he still maintains, who never was a high speed guy, I don't know, I am not too concerned with it, especially if there is some reason to hope it pops back to 89/90 with some health. As for whether the back injury is under control, well, who knows and like you, I don't have a high degree of confidence in their medical staff (nor am I sure I get what Rizzo meant when he said it was 'within the bounds of acceptable risk': kind of seemed like a 'feck it, let's give it a shot' comment).

Anyway, I think that for a number 4/5 on a one year deal, it is hard to dislike this move (which is where you came out). Personally, I like it quite a bit but partly because I have always liked the guy, and I mostly remember his peak. Still, a good move, I think.

K.C. said...

"Haren finally missed some significant time"

3 starts is significant?

Pig.Pen said...

Wow, well that made me want to throw myself out a 1st story window. I think you're too hard on Haren and overlook that he had a pretty nice September and a great April and May before getting hurt. Also, he should get a small bump heading back to the NL. Now, I don't think he's going to revert back to 2011 Dan Haren, but I do think he should be an upgrade over E-Jax. Velocity may have dipped a little and you may find other trends, but it's hard to put too much stock in a season's worth of numbers in which a player was hurt.

I know we all like numbers, but for a player like Haren I think the scouting reports from the end of last year are more important than his numbers that he put up in 2012. Unfortunately, while Rizzo has that information, we don't so it's tough to say. So I'll just say that Dan Haren is clutch. He's a gamer, full of gamery, gritty veteraniness. So I guess you could say I'm cautiously optimistic on this one.

Froggy said...

So, let's just say his stuff is the same as last year, and lets say he goes on average 5-6 innings a game. I think his numbers improve somewhat b/c without having to face a DH he pitches to 2-ish less batters a game. Sheer statistics man...

Froggy said...

...I meant, 2-ish less HITTERS a game.

Booyah Suckah! said...

Froggy, I think you were pseudo-right the first time. Yes, he pitches to two less "hitters" (vice batters) a game because he gets the pitcher instead of the DH. But, he probably also pitches to fewer batters overall, since the DH is .150-.200 points more likely to get on base and force the lead-off guy to the plate, whereas more than likely, the P is making an out. Over the course of a season, that difference is going to add up to a significant number of fewer batters faced. Moving to the NL isn't just about facing a P instead of a DH. It's about the additional pitches forced by the additional BA.

Anonymous said...

Greinke gets an "opt out" after one year on his mega-deal? I don't remember hearing of such a thing before. So the Dodgers go in the tank, trade Greinke at the deadline for a bunch of profits, he opts out and the Dodgers re-sign him as a FA?


Harper said...

BLW - I don't know how you'd measure that. Some sort of bad inning score? My guess is since he's not wild he'll have less big innings overall.

Wally - I do think people are taking this deal (and a little bit on the Span) deal too far. Like the Nats just picked up two All-Stars for nothing. They are good players who make the Nats incrementally better but the Nats were a 95 win team last year. To get substanitally better means replacing Suzuki with Posey. Espy with Cano.

KC - yeah that's about my limit on significant time - three starts in a row. It be a like an everyday player missing ~3 weeks of baseball. 10%... It's on the low end sure but I'll call it significant.

PP - I don't think I'm overlooking his good months, I'm just not focusing on him. His August was bad. Do I have to credit all of his bad starts in June/July to injury? I want to look at the whole year.

I do agree that he's an upgrade on Edwin, even if I don't think we'll really see it.

Froggy / BooSuck - Its all good coming over but do remember that overall the NL isn't a HUGE step back from the AL. It's a noticeable marginal improvement expected but marginal is the key word.

Chaos - Well sort of. He could opt out in your scenario - if he's traded - but that makes him a harder guy to deal. It's more for - "I got dealt to Place X I hate, I'm not staying" - then some master devious plan. He does have his own option to opt out if he wants after 3 years, CC had an early opt out with the Yankees.

Sec314 said...

When EJax was bad, he was really bad. Haren may not be more than a #5 innings eater, but I don't see him blowing up and self-destructing like Jackson

BlueLoneWolf said...


I think that's why EJax has never been able to stick on a team- you can't measure it. You can't make it a metric or rely on it, by eyeball test or by paper and calculator. He's got good stuff, but the high random outlier factor is just truly incalculable. You'd have to isolate innings where his ERA was above the ERA of the other innings in each game by some arbitrary but significant margin. How low would his ERA be if you took out the innings which he gave up 3+ runs, and then adjusted it for the whole season? Something to that effect, but it's still too random to really make a good guestimate as to what's going on in his head. Either way, we're his umpteenth team in several seasons for a reason: he's not HRod kill the backstop out of control, he's random short-circuiting computer that wipes your hard drive out of control.

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