Dan Haren got off to a rough start in 2013. After coming off a questionable 2012, it was starting to look like Haren was cooked. A phantom trip to the disabled list in late June seemed like a last ditch effort to save Haren’s year. It worked, as Haren posted a 3.29 ERA over his last 15 starts. Haren’s 4.69 ERA doesn’t exactly tell the whole story of his season, which potentially makes him undervalued this season. But is that actually the case?
What went wrong for Haren over those first couple months? A couple of things. Haren was coming off a back injury, which caused his velocity to dip in 2012. While he gained back some of that missing velocity, Haren only averaged 88.9 mph with his fastball, the second lowest rate of his career. The same thing happened with his cutter, which slightly rose, but sat at 85.5 mph throughout the year. Both pitches gave Haren trouble early, but the cutter was particularly destroyed. Over the first three months of the year, opposing hitters smashed Haren’s cutter at a .376 clip. Haren surrendered 11 home runs with the pitch over that period.
Those struggles led to a stint on the disabled list. While Haren was listed with shoulder inflammation, it seemed like the team was just putting him on the DL because they had no other option. After the season, Haren admitted his DL stint was more for “mental reasons than physical reasons.” Haren apparently had a tough time pitching away from the West Coast, and his family, for the first time since 2004.
He got his mind right after the break, going on a strong 15 game stretch to end the season. Did anything change? It wasn’t a change in repertoire. Haren’s cutter usage actually increased against righties, though it dropped by a bit against left-handers. The biggest difference seemed to be Haren’s home run rate. Through the first three months of the year, Haren’s home run rate was 15.8, 10.9 and 25.9. The last three months, that figure was 9.1, 8.7 and 11.1. It’s not exactly sure what led to that decrease, outside of Haren’s luck finally turning around. Haren credited the change to keeping the ball down more, and he did have a slightly lower fly ball rate over the last three months of the year, so that does check out. It’s also possible that Haren’s shoulder was bothering him early on, and the break helped.
Despite the second half improvement, Haren has now struggled with his home run rate for the past two seasons. Dodgers park has been a bit worse against home runs than Nationals Park, so that issue could be magnified if Haren doesn’t have things under control. Problem is, it’s tough to know if he does. Haren was much better over the second half, but his stuff is clearly in decline. The declining velocity and home run issues over the past two years also make him a risky choice.
Depending on what people choose to focus on, Haren can be viewed as a potential sleeper, or a candidate to continue his decline. The FIP and xFIP hint at a nice rebound, but his age and history show a player clearly in decline. Haren’s stock has dropped to the point that he’ll be a late-round flyer in most leagues. That’s precisely where he should be valued. There’s some reason for optimism, but not enough to make him a player you should target. There will likely be similar players with better upside around the same time Haren is available, complicating the issue. Given that he’s no longer a safe option, taking a chance on another player with similar risk might be the better play this season.
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