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Dan Haren’s Under-the-Radar Peak

Out in Hollywood, or even out in Hollywood of Anaheim where the Angels play, it can be easy to slip under the radar if you’re no longer the “it” thing. That may be the case with Dan Haren this season, and understandably so. A trip to the Angels’ spring training complex in Tempe this weekend saw a stadium draped in promotional banners sporting the visages of new stars Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson as well as home-grown hero Jered Weaver.

Haren has opened up spring training in midseason form, striking out 10 batters in his first five innings after an excellent start Tuesday. Of course, a great spring training doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but Haren dominating hitters is nothing new. For the last seven seasons Haren has excelled regardless of team — Athletics, Diamondbacks and now Angels. This timeframe spans his age 24 through 30 seasons, and only a few pitchers have matched or eclipsed what he’s done in that age range in recent memory (defined, for this exercise, as any pitcher who played in any season after 1990):

Rk Player SO/BB ERA+ IP SO From To GS ERA HR/9 H/9 BB/9 SO/9
1 Pedro Martinez 5.26 191 1438.0 1777 1996 2002 203 2.42 0.66 6.58 2.12 11.12
2 Dan Haren 4.30 123 1581.1 1368 2005 2011 237 3.49 1.01 8.55 1.81 7.79
3 Johan Santana 4.25 153 1471.2 1504 2003 2009 211 2.88 1.00 7.30 2.16 9.20
4 Greg Maddux 3.66 162 1691.2 1247 1990 1996 231 2.51 0.39 7.58 1.81 6.63
5 CC Sabathia 3.51 137 1588.1 1417 2005 2011 229 3.22 0.74 8.30 2.29 8.03
6 Roy Oswalt 3.44 137 1480.1 1191 2002 2008 221 3.17 0.74 8.80 2.10 7.24
7 Roger Clemens 3.28 149 1737.0 1595 1987 1993 233 2.88 0.55 7.62 2.52 8.26
8 Mike Mussina 3.25 127 1443.1 1143 1993 1999 210 3.70 0.99 8.54 2.19 7.13
9 John Smoltz 2.82 124 1557.0 1394 1991 1997 226 3.31 0.73 7.74 2.86 8.06
10 Frank Viola 2.63 123 1771.2 1258 1984 1990 250 3.38 0.90 8.55 2.43 6.39
11 Bert Blyleven 2.57 122 1665.0 1263 1975 1981 224 3.12 0.68 8.12 2.65 6.83
12 Orel Hershiser 2.33 132 1457.0 1011 1983 1989 191 2.69 0.46 7.66 2.68 6.25
13 Tim Hudson 2.20 125 1514.2 1023 2000 2006 226 3.56 0.78 8.57 2.76 6.08
14 Tom Glavine 1.93 127 1524.2 1018 1990 1996 226 3.22 0.53 8.52 3.12 6.01
15 Dave Stieb 1.79 131 1695.2 1082 1982 1988 241 3.27 0.79 7.83 3.21 5.74
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/13/2012.

Only 14 other pitches can boast 1400 innings pitched, an ERA+ over 120 and 1000 strikeouts as part of their age 24-30 campaigns. Haren has had his demons — specifically the home run ball — that haven’t, for the most part, affected the other nine pitchers. Still, Haren’s peripheral numbers have been so fantastically good — tied for the best walk rate with Maddux, trailing just Sabathia, Clemens and Smoltz for strikeout rate — that he’s managed to keep runs on the board on a level equal to some Hall of Fame level pitchers and others who opened their career on a Hall of Fame path. Haren’s 4.30 strikeout-to-walk ratio from ages 24 through 30 is only bettered by Pedro Martinez (5.26) and Ben Sheets (4.83) all time.

Whether it’s been the big three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito in Oakland, Brandon Webb in Arizona, or Weaver and Wilson in Anaheim, Haren has managed to find himself disguised by bigger names throughout his career. Nevertheless, Haren enters his age-31 season with the chance to extend one of baseball’s best and most underrated peaks in recent history, and he could end up being the true star of the Angels’ rotation in 2012.