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):
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.