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Dan Haren’s Commanding Start

The Angels’ Dan Haren pickup is looking great; early in the 2011 season Haren has been one of the game’s best pitchers. He has been the beneficiary of some BABIP and HR/FB luck. Still, the underlying peripherals are amazing, including a league-leading 13.5 K/BB and 2.80 xFIP.

Through his first four starts, and one appearance out of the pen during an extra-innings game, Haren is throwing his cut fastball much more than he did in the past. By my classification of the PitchFx data he is throwing it just under 40% of the time (the BIS classifications for yesterday’s game have not been updated at this time). Here are the locations of all those cut fastballs so far this year.

The glove-side cut of the pitch takes it away from right-handed batters and into left-handed batters. There is a tight pattern of pitch locations showing Haren’s great command of the pitch. He rarely leaves it up in the zone and most of the pitches are right on the glove-side edge of the zone.

Haren is throwing his fastball 35% of the time this year. Here are the locations of those pitches.

Again you can see the relatively tight pattern of locations, concentrating on the outside edge of the zone to both right- and left-handed batters. This gives Haren two pitches that he can throw for a strike almost whenever he wants, but at the same time often miss the heart of the plate. Against LHBs he concentrates the two pitches on different sides of the plate — inside with the cutter and outside with the fastball — a great combination to keep lefties off balance.

Obviously Haren will start giving up more hits and home runs, but he will still be a great pitcher (since 2005 only Roy Halladay has a better K/BB). Although the Angels will have their problems in 2011, it looks like with Haren and Jered Weaver they will have a great top to their rotation.