Dan Haren’s Collapsing 2014 Dream Season

Dan Haren has now made 16 starts. His ERA is 3.83. He’s stayed healthy enough to take the ball every fifth day. If you’d been told that’s how the first three months of his season would go when he signed a mere one-year contract last November, you’d probably have been thrilled and have quickly accepted that deal.

But there’s two problems with that, of course. The first is ERA. If you look at his career-worst FIP, which is 4.52, that’s actually the 16th-worst mark in baseball, fueled by the seventh-worst swinging-strike percentage, ahead only of guys like Mark Buehrle and Kevin Correia who were never expected to miss bats, and the sixth-worst HR/FB rate, which is even scarier considering that three of the guys ahead of him play in Arizona and Colorado.

The second is that it may not work to look at his entire season when wondering what we get going forward, because first-quarter Dan Haren has looked nothing like second-quarter Dan Haren. First-quarter Haren, in 50.2 innings over eight starts, had a 38/9 K/BB and allowed a mere three homers. Second-quarter Haren, in 45.2 innings over eight starts, has a 26/9 K/BB and 13 homers, which is at least one homer in every start and two five different times, including last night against the noted power duo of Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson.

Or, if you prefer this in graphical form:


Well, yikes. It’s pretty hard to talk past that, isn’t it? The homers, in blue, are a constant stain on his second quarter. Unsurprisingly, all three times he allowed zero or one run came in the first month of the season. Other than a seven-strikeout blip against the Phillies in start number 10 — and remember, the Phillies are terrible — his whiffs have flat-lined after a decent start.

Now I’ve been looking into what’s happened, and unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer. His velocity is down from last year, but it’s not down within the confines of 2014. With the exception of using a splitter a little more, which he should probably stop doing, because it doesn’t work that well, he hasn’t suddenly changed his repertoire. I don’t see evidence that he’s suddenly throwing differently or in a different part of the zone.

That, really, is what worries me, because if you look at the last three years of his career… this might just be what he is. The walks and homers are similar to what he was in 2012-13. The strikeouts are down, and that’s partially why the FIP is up.

Year Team K/9 BB/9 HR/9 HR/FB FIP
2012 Angels 7.23 1.94 1.43 12.8 4.24
2013 Nationals 8.01 1.64 1.49 13.0 4.09
2014 Dodgers 5.98 1.68 1.49 14.7 4.52

This might not be a slump. This might just be what he is, and in the same way that we’re enjoying the Giants coming back to reality after a crazy start to the season, it seems that Haren might be coming back to what he is as well. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Brim worried about Haren’s strikeout rate well over a month ago, and that was only after seven starts. He put way more math into it than I will here, but do remember some of the concerns he had back then: that Haren was getting an unusual amount of looking strikeouts given his low swinging strike rate.

At the time, Haren’s strikeouts were 50/50, 18 apiece. Since then, he’s had 20 swinging strikeouts and eight looking. As the looking strikeouts have collapsed and as his swinging strikeout rate remains mediocre, the overall level of missed bats looks worse. And since Haren’s good control keeps him in the zone, that means more hittable pitches, and more ending up in the seats.

Now, that all sounds pretty bad, I understand. I haven’t given you a lot of hope here. But that being said, I don’t think Haren is in any danger of losing his job, not yet. He’s been more poor than disastrous, in part because all but four of the homers have been solo shots, and the others all had one man on base. I don’t really think that’s a repeatable skill or anything, but the fact that these aren’t all three-run shots or grand slams has kept his overall performance manageable, and it’s important that we remember we’re looking at a fifth starter, not someone who could be expected to compete next to Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu.

That said, we’re almost into July, and although the rotation has been very good — and remember, that’s with far too many Paul Maholm starts in place of Kershaw — trade rumors around David Price are already swirling. Haren may not be expected to improve. Josh Beckett has nowhere to go but down. It might not be that crazy to think that Haren gets replaced should a trade happen, though I can’t see it being imminent. Other than a 15th-inning emergency last year, he hasn’t pitched in relief since 2004. He’s not been so bad that he should just get DFA’d. He’s going to keep on starting barring anything unexpected. Unfortunately, it may be that all we can do is cross our fingers and hope that this is the floor, and that there’s not lower — and wonder if he’ll hit the 180 inning mark that will vest his 2015 option.

About Mike Petriello

Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.