The Forgotten Ace

Let’s start this article off with a little experiment. You have five seconds to think of the best pitchers in baseball. Ready? Go!

What names immediately popped into your head? Surely, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay made your list. It’s also likely that Felix Hernandez and Tim Lincecum were two of the more popular choices. Some of you may have said David Price or Justin Verlander or Josh Johnson, and those are all acceptable answers.  Now, be honest, how many of you thought of Dan Haren?

Despite being an extremely durable and valuable pitcher over his career, Haren doesn’t seem to get the credit he deserves. Over the past five seasons, Haren ranks as the third best pitcher in all of baseball according to WAR (behind Halladay and Sabathia). Over the past six seasons, Haren has thrown at least 216 innings each year. While his strikeout numbers have been above average, Haren’s true value lies in his ability to limit walks (career 1.96 BB/9). Even though he clearly deserves to be mentioned as one of the best pitchers in baseball, Dan Haren seems to be the forgotten ace. How can a pitcher who has performed so well receive so little recognition?

Part of the problem has to do with the teams Haren has suited up for over his career. Haren first established himself with the Oakland Athletics, and while they were a competitive team at the time, the A’s didn’t (and still don’t) draw a whole lot of media attention. Despite his strong performances, Haren wasn’t even viewed as the ace of Oakland’s staff. That title still belonged to Barry Zito, who was just finishing up his career as an Athletic. Even though Haren was the better pitcher in 2005 and 2006, the baseball world still recognized Zito as the team’s ace. Once Zito left the team, giving Haren a chance to shine as the A’s true ace, the A’s turned in their worst season since 1998. For a team that already received little media attention when they were good, turning in a season like this made them nearly invisible to the national media.

The same thing happened with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Haren was now recognized as an ace, but he played for a team that receives little national media coverage. Haren posted his strongest seasons in Arizona (6.5 WAR in 2008 and 6.1 WAR in 2009), but had little to show for it. In 2008, the team finished second in the division, but managed to win only 82 games. In 2009, the team finished dead last in the NL West. The Diamondbacks were well on their way to another last place finish in 2010 when they decided to deal Haren to the Los Angeles Angels.

Finally, Haren’s luck appeared to be changing. Not only was he joining a large market for the first time in his career, but the Angels had made the playoffs the last three seasons. It looked like everything was falling into place for Haren to finally get the recognition he deserved. Unfortunately, the Angels luck came to a screeching halt as they stumbled to a third place finish last season. Once again, Haren was overshadowed by another pitcher on his own team…Jered Weaver. Even entering this season, Weaver appeared to be the Angels’ ace. Haren would once again have to play the role of the sidekick.

Despite his strong performances over the years, it appears that a mix of playing in small markets, on bad teams, and with other well-regarded pitchers has clouded our perception of Dan Haren. Funny thing is, he’s doing it again as we speak. Haren currently ranks fourth in WAR among all pitchers this season, yet it seems like a surprise considering the lack of coverage he receives even today. There is absolutely no doubt that Dan Haren has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past 5-6 seasons. It’s about damn time we finally give him some praise.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


55 Responses to “The Forgotten Ace”

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  1. Ben says:

    I guess it just depends on the audience. I don’t think Haren is particularly forgotten on fangraphs or in the SABR community.

    To be honest, when I saw the article’s title, I just assumed it would be about Cole Hamels, given the timing and his season-long performance.

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  2. Andrew says:

    Ditto. Was looking forward to a Hamels article. Arguably a top 3 pitcher over the last calendar year.

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  3. Don G says:

    Sigh…

    From Dan’s Baseball Reference page:
    December 18, 2004: Traded by the St. Louis Cardinals with Daric Barton and Kiko Calero to the Oakland Athletics for Mark Mulder.

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    • Big Jgke says:

      When you get a shot at Mark Mulder, you don’t ask questions about the deal, you just pop the champagne and wait for the titles to roll in.

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      • V says:

        Except that the deal was bad the instant it was made – check Mulder’s second half with the As – he was hurt, and it was obvious.

        (Not saying this with hindsight – I hated the deal at the time, though I thought Barton was more of a loss than Haren, lol).

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    • CardinalRules says:

      Yeah. I wish I could forget about Haren. I was just lamenting that trade last night with my brother.

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  4. Matt says:

    Haren is definitely underrated but honestly I think Verlander maybe even more. If you were to ask people who are the top 2 in WAR since the start of 09 I bet the vast majority of people wouldn’t say Verlander was one of them but he is. The only person to have more WAR than him in that time is Halladay, and even that is by less than 1 win. I just think people forget how good he has been.

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    • Colin says:

      Ditto,

      It’s funny, when I saw the title of this article, I thought there was a good chance it WAS about Verlander, the fact that it was about Haren though isn’t exactly surprising.

      What is surprising is that Verlander was then left off the list of possible aces people might think of.

      Now that is pretty funny.

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      • Colin says:

        Then Chris changes that in the article and makes me look stupid…..well played. ;)

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      • Chris Cwik says:

        Actually, I did put Verlander on the list.

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      • Chris Cwik says:

        Nope. He’s been there the whole time. The only edits I will ever make after an article goes live is grammatical changes.

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      • Colin says:

        Are you sure, I remember him not being there when reading the article…..didn’t take a screen shot (who would), guess I’ll have to take your word for it. Apparently I just missed it.

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      • theperfectgame says:

        “The only edits I will ever make after an article goes live is grammatical changes.”

        Anyone else find this sentence amusing?

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  5. Durf says:

    Remember when the Yanks were gonna trade ivan nova and Joba for Dan Haren? They decided not to for whatever reason…The FO looked pretty stupid there

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  6. Nox says:

    Joe Saunders: Stud

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  7. Ian says:

    I think at least part of it is his weird tendency to have an insane few months followed by a kind of bad few months, or vice versa. Like for example, in 2009, when was incredible in the first half (2.01 ERA, 0.81 WHIP) but then blew up in August and September. Or last year, when he started off slow (5.35 ERA in April and May), but then turned it around and had an 3.24 ERA the rest of the way.

    Overall, it makes him a great pitcher, but he hasn’t had an extended period of greatness the way Halladay or Lincecum have. That probably doesn’t help him get the recognition he deserves.

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    • Sean says:

      Per start ERA standard deviation (2009):

      Roy Halladay – 2.495
      Josh Johnson – 2.505
      Dan Haren – 2.629
      Tim Lincecum – 2.976
      Felix Hernandez – 3.407
      CC Sabathia – 4.377
      Justin Verlander – 4.464

      Haren was as consistent as the group of elite pitchers mentioned in this article.

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  8. Big Jgke says:

    Has a player ever been a part of more horribly lopsided deals than Haren? His StL to Oak and Ari to LAA trades are all timers for bad value.

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    • Anon says:

      Yes – check out all 5 Curt Schilling deals. In each, the team trading him just got beat up

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    • DbacksSkins says:

      Dude, Tyler Skaggs is leading all of Hi-A in strikeouts, and is third in all the minor leagues. That trade wasn’t nearly as bad as some seem to think.

      Would it have been nice to have gotten more, if possible? Probably. Would it be nice to have Danny Haren this season? Hell yeah. But Skaggs is gonna be ready right when a bunch of prospects are making it through the system…

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    • Jason B says:

      Tyler Skaggs is nice, but he’s no Boz.

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  9. MikeM says:

    Even in his best seasons Haren has never won more that 16 games. And he’s had double-digit losses 4 of the last 6 years.

    Clearly Mr. Haren hasn’t reached acedom because he just doesn’t know how to win.

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  10. Phils Goodman says:

    I’m biased, but I thought this was going to be a Cole Hamels article. He’s taken the Next Step while “buried” at #4 in the rotation. He throws four pitches now and the peripherals bear witness to his improvement.

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  11. michael borne says:

    We can give Haren credit for being awesome, but the Angels can’t give him run support…

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  12. Criminal Type says:

    Forgotten ace? At least people have heard of Dan Haren.

    How about Daniel Hudson? He’s right there with those guys mentioned above, also plays for a team that refuses to score runs for him.

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    • oscar says:

      ian kennedy over hudson, kennedy can even pitch @ coors. kennedy only 1 bad game (* 9 ER against STL, a very hot offensive team)

      hudson on the other hand has a bunch of losses -__-

      kennedy for 2011. hudson for 2012 all the buzz preseason was how was he going to buildoff 8-1 start from last year. well hudson better have a magical rest of season to hop over kennedy.

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      • Criminal Type says:

        I honestly am just learning what all these expanded statistics really mean, but Hudson ranks 5th among all pitchers in WAR (2.6) and Ian Kennedy ranks 26th at 1.7.

        They’re both having fine seasons. They both have six wins.

        Is W/L a good indicator of value?

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      • Tim A. says:

        Guys… being the best pitcher on a crappy team (playing over their heads) does not necessarily make said pitcher an Ace.

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      • Ton says:

        “hudson on the other hand has a bunch of losses -__-”

        youd think fangraphs readers would know better…smh

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  13. oscar says:

    james shields, sure he didnt start opening day, but he did last year nd the year before that,. hes AN ACEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE WOIOHOOOO

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  14. DavidYoungTBLA says:

    If you’re going to throw David Price in there, don’t you have to consider Clayton Kershaw too?

    Kershaw’s WAR in his first three seasons is 10.4 (’08-’10, 83 starts = .125/start) with 2.3 WAR this season so far in 13 starts (.177/start).

    Price career WAR excluding his ’08 cup o’ coffee: 8.4 in 67 starts = .125/start. (.200/start in ’11 thus far)

    (Hat tip to GScott)

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  15. Jesse Weissman says:

    Your argument that he is overlooked is completely specious; your only justification for it was a made up hypothetical where you told us what we would think (and Dan Haren did in fact pop into my head). If you’re gonna make that claim back it up with statistics about media coverage and Cy Young votes and the like.

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    • Ben says:

      Yeah, agreed. I’m not a fan of just dropping random criticisms or saying an article is bad just to feel better about myself, but in this case we have an entire article that is based on a premise that is never really addressed or proven. SABR and fangraphs encourages us to ignore the ‘feel’ of things and look for evidence. In this case, there’s no evidence to suggest he’s underrated. Any effort at all – media coverage, all star games, awards votes, even some fantasy stats like ownership or starts – SOMETHING has to be provided to suggest he is underrated to make this worthwhile.

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  16. adr3 says:

    I know he’s hurt, but it seems like Wainwright would be the forgotten ace. No one has even mentioned him, and he’s much better than Hamels…

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    • Jason B says:

      True, he is having a fantastic season…

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      • adr3 says:

        Yep, he looks pretty unhittable this year. But for real, the fact that he’s currently hurt is pretty irrelevant to his status as an ace….and his stats hold up against any of these guys.

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  17. dustin says:

    Cliff Lee anyone?

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  18. alfredo simon says:

    eh, i thought this was gonna be about Vogelsong… :)

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  19. jrogers says:

    You mention Zito in Oak and Weaver in LA, but Haren was overlooked in Arizona for his first couple of years due to Brandon Webb, too. Even hurt I think he was seen as more the face of the D-Backs’ pitching staff.

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  20. Gary York says:

    If Chris had titled the article “A Forgotten Ace” that would have rendered all this quibbling irrelevant.

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  21. CircleChange11 says:

    The Cardinals did a great job getting Carp from TOR and Wainwright from ATL, but Haren will always be the one that got away.

    At the time of the deal, StL was running the NL, and likely thought they needed a veteran for the playoffs.

    Since, John Tudor, StL has had horrible luck with lefties … Danny Jackson, Rick Ankiel, Mark Mulder.

    I would not be surprised if OAK thought Barton was the big piece of the trade.

    Looking back, this was at a time when control pitchers were undervalued as well.

    Carpenter, Wainwright, Haren, Garcia, Lohse. That would be some serious poop for a rotation. Seriously, 4 All-Star caliber starters and one league average.

    Haren could also be overlooked for both the number of teams he has played for and the quality of teams. When you hear the name “Dan Haren”, what team pops into mind?

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  22. Joncarlos says:

    I agree that I expected a Hamels article, but where’s the love for Jon Lester?

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  23. DavidCEisen says:

    Dear Internets: This article obviously wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of aces in baseball. It was about Dan Haren being underrated.

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  24. cutchisaboss says:

    I sort of agree, but as a big time fantasy player, Haren has been my boy for the past two years. I think the big problem here is a lack of run support.

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    • Colin says:

      I actually would suspect that it has more to do with having one year with a slightly inflated ERA.

      For whatever reason, people seem to hold a negative outlier year against pitchers no matter what they do during that year or in following years.

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  25. reillocity says:

    As a baseball fan I would have liked to see Haren stay in the NL and continue to hit. Perhaps only Gallardo is his equal with the bat amongst current MLB aces (with apologies to Mr. Zambrano, as aces of AAA clubs aren’t eligible in my book).

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  26. Young Gung says:

    Surprised no mentioned some of his career pre and post all-star splits as to why some people over look the guy. Career pre all-star 3.20 era 1.09 whip, post all-star 4.07 era 1.30 whip, both 650+ ip samples.

    His numbers always end good, and I think if you randomly mixed in his pre and post all-star #s and put together one full season maybe he’d get more recognition. He’s got a history of fading to many people and I’m sure that leaves a bad image of Dan Haren for a lot of people. I think most people weight second half performances higher than first half ones because of the idea of perceived improvement. No one wants to see someone regress or seemingly take a step backwards in the final months of the season.

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  27. zach says:

    what about zack greinke

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  28. zach says:

    also gio gonzalez has taken over this era of baseball

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