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.