What to Make of Dan Haren's Night
That is were I would like to end this post, but instead of that I am going to continue and try and add some prospective to what was admittedly a terrible start for Dan Haren. Now many people have looked at Haren's poor season in 2012 where he had a 4.33 ERA in 176 2/3 innings pitched, drawn a timeline through his Spring Training with the Nats where he had a 6.39 ERA in 25 1/3 innings pitched to last nights six run four homer game, and come to the conclusion that Dan Haren at the age of 32 is finished. That a pitcher that until last season was on pace to have a borderline Hall of Fame career is finished. That the pitcher who is fifth all time in K/BB rate suddenly forgot how to pitch and after one bad start should be let go.
There are certain facts about Dan Haren that cannot be ignored. He is no longer as much of a power pitcher as he was his first go round in the NL when his fastball averaged 91.1 MPH. In 2012 his average fastball velocity was at 88.5 MPH, but Haren has changed as a pitcher. He relies far more heavily on his cutter and sinker to get outs than his fastball anymore. In a 2011 season in which he pitched 238 1/3 innings with a 3.17 ERA with the Angels he used the fastball 516 times, the cutter 1,807 times, and the sinker 726 times. Dan Haren is a feel pitcher. He has to have good movement and location on his pitches in order to survive and in 2011 with an average fastball velocity of 89.8 MPH he was able to do so. Last evening his average fastball was at 88.9. Not enough of a difference to account for such a bad start.
What happened is simple. Feel pitchers don't do well on too much rest. Haren was pitching last evening on nine days rest. In the 28 starts Haren has made when pitching on six plus days of rest he has a 5.09 ERA and batters are hitting .280/.320/.490 against him. When pitching on five days rest the story is a little better as Haren has a 3.89 ERA and batters hit .260/.303/.433 against him, but when Haren is on a normal four days rest he is at his best with a 3.45 ERA in 181 career starts and having held batters to a line of .248/.288/.391. Haren is the type of pitcher that needs to live down in the zone. He doesn't throw hard enough to get away with any type of elevation and if he is throwing 90 up and in then what happened last night is what is going to happen.
None of this means much of anything. Haren for his career has been very good, but has had a number of bad games where he has given up four homers. He did it once last season in Colorado against the Rockies, twice in 2010 at Colorado and at Chase field against the Blue Jays, and in 2009 at Oakland. Haren's fWAR in 2010 and 2009 was 4.1 and 5.7 respectively. One bad start doesn't define a season, nor does it mean a pitcher is done and a GM made a mistake in acquiring him. All it means is that he had a bad start. The following Nats starters had games in which they gave up six or more earned runs in 2012; Gio Gonzalez; July 19 vs. the Mets, Jordan Zimmermann; September 1 vs. the Cardinals, Edwin Jackson; June 28 vs. the Rockies, September 9 vs. the Marlins, and September 28 vs. the Cardinals, Ross Detwiler; May 19 vs. the Orioles, Stephen Strasburg; July 31 vs. the Phillies, and John Lannan; September 19 vs. the Dodgers. The only Nats starters that didn't give up six or more earned runs at least once were Chien-Ming Wang and Tom Gorzelanny.
The fact that Dan Haren had a bad start in his first start of the season as opposed to all the dates listed above magnifies things. Especially when it follows a Spring Training in which he had poor numbers. But the facts remain the Spring Training is Spring Training and one start is one start. Good or bad nothing should be made of just one start. The career averages of Dan Haren point to him being a very good to great starting pitcher. He will find his groove and make Nats fans forget about this one start. Even in his less than stellar 2012 his 4.33 ERA was right around the AL average of 4.37. A team can do a lot worse than having a league average starter as their fifth best.
Where would the Nationals have been if they had judged their big starting pitching acquisition of 2012 in such a harsh manner and given up on Gio Gonzalez after he put up a line of 3 1/3 innings pitched 4 earned runs on seven hits with 6 strikeouts and 3 walks against the Chicago Cubs. Good starters have bad starts, and Dan Haren was a feel pitcher pitching on nine days rest in a hitters ballpark against what might be the best line-up in the NL. This game qualifies as one of the worst games Dan Haren has pitched in the last couple of seasons and as he said it won't define his 2013 season. Even at his worst Haren was a 4.33 ERA pitcher, and why anyone would expect this to be the norm or for Haren to be finished is a mystery. The track record of his career is much better than this, and one start means nothing in the course of a season or career. Haren will have better starts than this and giving up on him or trying to find any meaning in last evening's terrible start is a fool's errand.