Dan Haren has been as talked about as a potential trade target could possibly be given that the 2012 MLB season ended just a few days ago. The Cubs and Red Sox were both in on Haren, with the former even nearly getting a deal done to send Carlos Marmolwest in exchange for the longtime Angels starting pitcher. While that deal would have almost certainly been a nice move on Chicago’s part, it didn’t happen, and as a result the Angels wound up declining Haren’s $15.5 million option by buying him out for $3.5 million instead.
It wasn’t long ago that declining Haren’s option would have seemed virtually unthinkable for a team looking to compete in the short-term; in fact, such a move surely wouldn’t have been predicted even a few short months ago. Haren had a rough 2012, though, and the Angels seem adamant about parting with the 32-year-old hurler. Haren posted an ERA of 4.33, a FIP of 4.24, and an xFIP of 4.00 this past season. All of those figures represent career worsts, and yet those numbers still aren’t downright terrible. It’s almost certain that Haren ends up taking the mound for a team other than the Angels in 2013, so what exactly can his new employer expect?
Let’s look at Haren’s worst season in a little more detail. Haren’s always-solid peripherals remained intact, as he struck out 7.23 batters per nine innings while walking just a shade under two. The main issue seemed to be that Haren was simply getting hit a lot harder, as he allowed 9.7 H/9, saw his ground ball rate sink below the 40% mark for the first time, and allowed 12.8% of his fly balls to clear the fence. These are all troubling trends, but are they the result of bad luck, a fixable problem, or a decline in overall ability?
One notable change, and this has been going on for a while, is that Haren’s fastball velocity took another negative turn. For the third campaign in four, Haren’s fastballs were less fast than before, and the fourth season in that group featured an identical statistic when compared to the year before. With a heater now clocking in at an average of 88.5 mph, there’s little chance Haren is going to be blowing anyone away. Perhaps that drop in velocity has been playing a part in Haren’s declining strikeout rate, though it’s not like he still doesn’t know how to miss bats.
Still just 32, it doesn’t seem like Haren is by any means done being an effective starter. First of all, he’s never been the kind of top-of-the-rotation guy who relied on a big fastball to get by. Haren throws a wide assortment of pitches, and he’s always had outstanding control and heavy-enough movement to take care of the opposition. Per Pitch f/x data on FanGraphs, Haren’s cutter was significantly less effective and he went with his fastball a bit more than he did in 2011. It could be that Haren simply needs to continually adjust his approach as his radar gun readings wane and his age heads north. He’s proven himself an intelligent pitcher for nearly a decade, and he seems like a good bet to get back on track.
Keep in mind that Haren has looked a bit lost for most of a season before. In 2010, Haren had one of his worst seasons going before being traded from Arizona to Los Angeles. The problems he was having that season were very similar to what we saw in 2012; he was getting hit with greater frequency despite still showing the peripherals we all know and love. Once in an Angel uniform, Haren righted the ship and didn’t look back until his struggles this summer. And what about Haren’s second half in 2012? After establishing a 4.86 ERA and allowing 122 hits in 103 2/3 IP during the first half, Haren logged a 3.58 ERA and gave up just 68 hits in 73 second half innings.
Dan Haren was worth just 1.8 WAR per FanGraphs in 2012, but he’ had never before dipped below the 4.0 WAR mark since becoming a full-season starter in 2005. He’s long been as consistent a starter as a team could wish for, and he has the repertoire to adjust with age and the decline of his stuff. Maybe Haren has worn out his welcome as a Los Angeles Angel, but I’m sure there are plenty of teams willing to bet on him going forward.