Dan Haren Photo Credit: Icon SMI
By: Andrew Thell
For Diamondbacks fans and Dan Haren owners Tuesday’s turn at Dodger Stadium offered a chance to come down off the ledge. 2010 has been a disaster for the ace thus far, with his ERA standing at a bloated 5.35 in 74 innings coming into Chavez Ravine. That is not what we signed up for back in May when drafting the 29-year-old ace, myself included. In fantasy you’re always supposed to wait on pitching unless the hurler in question is a true difference maker in the ratios, and Haren had proven he was just what with 216 innings of 3.33 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 206 Ks in 2008 followed by a truly elite 3.14 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 223 Ks in 229.1 innings in 2009. Coming into the season there was little question Haren had transformed himself into an ace with a strikeout rate and WHIP that had improved in each of the last five seasons.
Then this season happened.
I managed to get the Diamondbacks feed for Tuesday’s tilt and it was one of the few times in my life I was actually glad I didn’t draw the venerable Vin Scully’s mellifluous commentary for a Dodgers game. That’s because Arizona announcers Daron Sutton and Mark Grace spent a bulk of the broadcast dissecting Mr. Haren, a topic I was acutely interested in. Despite a woeful ignorance of and aversion to advanced stats, they still provided useful information in discussing a mechanical adjustment Haren had made between starts to stay on top of the ball through his motion, allowing him to better keep it down in the zone and below the belt-line – something that had been a problem resulting in an uncharacteristic 16 HRs allowed in just 12 starts (and 8 in his last 2). The results seemed to speak for themselves as Haren did keep the ball down, striking out 7, inducing grounders with regularly, not giving up any deep flies of note and putting goose eggs on the board for 8 innings.
It was an encouraging start to say the least. Less encouraging was manager AJ Hinch’s handling of his ace. Hinch sent him back out there to face the heart of a dangerous Dodgers order for the 8th inning of a tie-game, putting Haren in a position to potentially unravel the confidence he had built through 7 stellar innings and pushing the struggling star to a career-high pitch count of 127. It was a terrible decision, but it worked out – at least until Haren’s next start versus Atlanta, where I hope the excessive pitches don’t catch up with him, or later in the season, where I pray the workload doesn’t eventually shelve Haren. Throughout the season Hinch has proven himself a clown in his handling of the pitching staff, bullpen included, but that’s beside the point.
Setting concerns over Mr. Hinch’s managerial ineptitude aside, a look under the hood shows that we really shouldn’t have been that worried about Haren even before the strong performance in LA. He’s now at 83 Ks in 82 innings, good for a career-high 9.11 K/9, the best mark of his career and a strong indication there isn’t a lingering injury. Haren’s BABIP on the season is .342 and he has a 17% HR/FB, both up drastically from his career .302 BABIP and 11.2% HR/FB. Those are two more strong indications bad luck are playing a huge role in the current bloated ERA and WHIP.
Other than a not-easy schedule for the remainder of June (vs. ATL, vs. STL, @ DET, vs. NYY, @ STL) I don’t see any reason to think Haren can’t build on Tuesday’s performance and start turning in the type of quality starts (and Quality Starts) we’ve grown accustomed to over the last few years. Of course, there is the ominous late-season split Haren has built up (3.28 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, .231 BAA pre-All Star break; 4.21 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, .277 BAA post-All Star break in 1,300+ career innings). But I don’t buy into that dramatic a difference at this point in his career – I think it’s something that will iron out over time, and this is likely a year where he posts an inverse split which starts that process.
Bottom line: Diamondbacks fans can exhale, owners of Haren will want to hold on to their investment and keep trotting him out there (except perhaps for that start against the Yanks), and any fantasy owner in need of front-line pitching help the rest of the way should have been trying to buy low for a couple weeks. Make your offers now, the window of opportunity is closing here. There’s no guarantee Haren won’t throw up a couple of stinkers, but there’s also no reason to think he’s not the stud fantasy owners spent that third- or fourth-round pick on.