Many assume the 32-year-old Haren is a sensible replacement for Edwin Jackson. He’s not. He’s much higher reward and not-insignificant risk of being worse. A few know how delighted the Nats are to see Haren in their midst. “He’s absolutely fearless,” said Kurt Suzuki, who caught him on the A’s in ’07.
“Has there ever been a better five-man rotation than this one, at least potentially?” said Jayson Werth.
Come on, how can you possibly say that?
“If Dan Haren is your fifth starter,” he said, “how good could you be?”
That’s the high, high side, unlikely but possible. Haren’s whole career has been on the West Coast, away from East Coast eyes. Because he’s been consistently excellent but never won more than 16 games, he doesn’t have the glamour of comparable pitchers. Who’s comparable? Over the last five years, including his poor 2012, Haren has 70 wins and a 3.58 ERA. Zack Greinke, who just got a $147 million contract, won 70 with a 3.42 ERA.
Oh, Haren’s not Greinke, you say. Maybe not, but he’s a true Somebody.
One of baseball’s gaudiest statistics for measuring a pitcher’s stuff plus his command is his strikeout-to-walk ratio. Since 1884, the best whiff/walk ratios have been Curt Schilling (4.38), Pedro Martinez (4.15), Mariano Rivera (4.04) and Dan Haren (4.01). Stephen Strasburg was 4.10 last year.
Only one active pitcher, Roy Halladay, has better control than Haren, who actually ranks slightly ahead of immaculate Mark Buehrle and Cliff Lee with only 1.89 walks per nine innings.
The risk-reward range on Haren is extreme. Among pitchers who most resemble him statistically at 32, Bill Gullickson went 20-9, Jim Bunning 19-8 and Kevin Appier 15-11. But Ron Darling was 5-9 and John Lackey had a 6.41 ERA. This can go either way, very dramatically and with huge ripples.
“If he’s what he was last year, he’s a terrific complementary starter for us,” said Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo. “But he’s only 32. If he’s the guy he’s been every other year except last year, he’s ‘top of the rotation’ elite.” Rizzo doesn’t mention Darling, Lackey or the like. Why get wrinkles in February because Haren’s fastball, never below 90mph before, dropped to 88.5 last year?
“We [evaluators] all worry about ‘old,’ ‘injury prone’ and ‘his stuff isn’t as good.’ ” said Rizzo dismissively. “This is a guy with plus-plus-command of three pitches. His ‘plus pitch’ is his command of all his pitches.
“We’ve done a lot of things with his hip — stretch, different workouts with less weight to bear, masseuse twice a week. He has more range of motion. If that improves, the fastball may improve. But it doesn’t have to.”