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.