The Washington Nationals found a new one-year pitcher to replace Edwin Jackson. This time, it’s Dan Haren coming to the capital for $13 million for the 2013 season. The projections up on this site are upbeat about his chances at a bounce-back, but those projections aren’t privy to the doctor’s reports. Neither are we, really, but we do know that there are problems with Dan Haren’s body.
The only DL stint listed for 2012 blames Haren’s back. That’s scary enough, since a bad back can stop the toughest competitor in his tracks. But then there’s Buster Olney, tweeting that the real concern for Haren was his hip. As we know from all the fretting about Clayton Kershaw, and the surgeries on Alex Rodriguez, the hip is no joke either. No surprise then that Olney is now tweeting that the key words for the deal are ‘pending a physical.’
Let’s say Haren passes the physical. That still doesn’t mean he’ll get through the season unscathed. Though he’s been durable — he spent seven years averaging over 220 innings before last season — you have to think that repeating last year’s 176.2 innings would be a victory for the Nationals and their new number three.
Moving from Anaheim to Washington won’t be a great boon. Haren’s never been a big ground-ball guy, and so on some level the 97 park factor for home runs in Anaheim must have helped him keep his home run per fly ball numbers below average for the first two seasons in an Angels uniform. Washington plays completely neutral on home runs overall. Haren gives up more fly balls to lefties (40.3% to 33.6%), and the Angels’ stadium suppressed home runs by lefties by five percent. Washington plays completely neutral for lefty home runs.
But there’s still the matter of moving leagues. The switch can be worth about a half a strikeout per nine innings on the aggregate, and Haren himself lost almost a full strikeout in his move away from Arizona just two and a half seasons ago. At 32, it’s conceivable that Haren, even with his fastball more like 89 instead of 90 mph these days, could get some strikeout power back. He hasn’t averaged 91 mph since 2008, his game isn’t really about velocity.
A big part of what he does is control. He has a career 5.1% walk rate, and he equaled that number exactly last season. That should translate into next season. Give his strikeout rate a little bump up from the league switch, and a little bump down from age, and he should manage a strikeout rate near his 20.4% career number. 1.43 homers per nine (last season’s number) is too much, but 1.05 HR/9 (career number) might be too little, to take the over on that. Then put the injury cherry on top.
Add it all up and you probably do still get worse numbers than his Bill James projections — fewer innings, fewer strikeouts, more walks, and maybe even a few more home runs — but not much worse. And really, that’s a decent pitcher in real life, and a useful back-end pitcher in fantasy. Which means he’ll probably be a value pick next season.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.