From 2007 to 2011, Dan Haren was one of the best pitchers in baseball. Over those five seasons, he averaged 5.4 WAR, winning 73 games in more than 1100 innings pitched. In fantasy baseball, Haren might not have been profiled as a classic #1 starter, but he was typically among the top 12 pitchers off the board, and if he was your #2 starter, you were pretty well set up.
In 2012, things started to go south, and they went so in a hurry. His fastball velocity was off dramatically, his strikeout rate continued to fall for the third consecutive year, and he was simply much more hittable. His results weren’t awful, but they just weren’t the old Dan Haren: 4.33 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and a 19% strikeout rate. Pretty much the definition of a spot starter. Single handedly disproving the contract year phenomena, Haren couldn’t even find a suitor as a free agent until the Nationals took a one-year flyer on him in December of 2012.
Most fantasy formats saw Haren get drafted as his ownership was in the 90 percentile range in April across platforms. But by the end of June, Haren was widely available on the waiver wire in most formats — and for good reason. From April through June, Haren had given up 105 hits over 82 innings pitched, including an eye-popping 19 home runs. His strikeout rate was just 18% and his ERA sat at a dismal 6.15.
But since the beginning of July, there has been marked improvement. Over that time span, Haren has a 2.30 ERA with 42 strikeouts over 43 innings pitched, giving up just 29 hits. In these seven starts, he has held opposing batters to a .191/.250/.283 slash line, and produced a 25% strikeout rate. The question of course is whether he can keep this up.
There’s been no perceptible change in his fastball velocity, but since coming off the disabled list in early July, there’s a very perceptible change in his repertoire. Now, there appears to be very little agreement between pitch classification systems about what Dan Haren’s repertoire actually includes. But for the sake of comparing his first half to his second half, I’m using Brooks Baseball — and here’s how his repertoire has changed over his last seven starts:
So he’s pretty much stopped throwing his four seam fastball and he’s throwing almost twice the number of sinkers. I deleted the curve because he very rarely throws it. The other little tidbit actually does have something to do with velocity:
Everything is within a fraction of each other 1st half to 2nd half, but he’s taken about three miles per hour off his splitter — and that almost has to be intentional. Perhaps he’s striving for better separation between pitches, but it’s a little odd when he still only uses his splitter about 15% of the time.
I am a little concerned that this new success doesn’t have the smell of staying power, whatever staying power smells like. Minty, perhaps. In the first half, his sinker was producing just awful results. Opposing batters were hitting .357 with a .643 slugging percentage off his sinker. His split finger fastball was his best pitch — opponents were hitting just .183 with a .324 slugging percentage. So to then take that lack of success with the sinker and lean on it ever more significantly as well as pretty dramatically change the velocity on your most effective pitch — well, it just doesn’t seem right. Does it?
In the second half, suddenly his sinker is terrific. Opponents are hitting just .200 with a .323 slugging percentage. His splitter is even better. Opponents are hitting just .103, slugging .138.
Interestingly, Haren’s opposing batter BABIP in the second half is just .195. Based on the hit trajectory he’s allowed in the second half, his xBABIP is .314.
I’m happy for Haren and the Nationals, honestly. I hope Haren finds himself a nice little contract for the next few years on the back of his second half success. But as far as fantasy baseball goes, I’m not sure I can recommend you hang your hat on his latest improvement.
Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.