Prospect Retro: Dan Haren
Dan Haren was drafted in the second round in 2001, by the Cardinals out of Pepperdine University. Some teams considered him as a late first-rounder, but the '01 class was considered rich in pitching and Haren fell to the second round, 72nd overall. He had been very successful at Pepperdine, going 11-3, 2.22 with a 97/31 K/BB in 130 innings on the season. A big guy at 6-5, 220, he worked in the 90-92 range in college but would occasionally get up to 94-95, also showing a good splitter, curveball, and changeup. He continued to pitch well in the New York-Penn League after signing, posting a 3.10 ERA with a 57/8 K/BB ratio in 52 innings, demonstrating excellent command. I gave him a Grade B- pending some higher-level data, writing that he "doesn't have the ceiling of some guys," but would likely advance rapidly through the system. I thought he'd be a command-oriented inning-eater type.
Haren split 2002 between Peoria in the Midwest League (7-3, 1.95 with a 89/12 K/BB in 102 innings) and Potomac in the Carolina League (3-6, 3.62 with a 82/19 K/BB in 92 innings), throwing 194 innings on the season. He demonstrated excellent command as shown by the K/BB, but his velocity was down into the 88-92 range for most of the season. I wrote that Haren was "a good solid prospect, probably not a future ace, but somebody who will be a sound rotation starter if he stays healthy" and gave him a Grade B in the 2003 book.
2003 saw Haren off to a brilliant start at Double-A Tennessee, going 6-0, 0.82 with a 49/6 K/BB in 55 innings. He was less effective, though still very efficient, in Triple-A with a 4.93 ERA but a 35/8 K/BB in 46 innings. Pushed into major league action, he went 3-7, 5.08 with a 43/22 K/BB in 73 innings for the Cardinals, allowing 84 hits. The general consensus was that he had been rushed, but that he at least threw some strikes. Most people still viewed him as an inning-eater type.
Haren split 2004 between Triple-A Memphis (11-4, 4.15 with a 150/33 K/BB in 128 innings, but 136 hits allowed) and St. Louis (4.50 ERA, 32/17 K/BB in 46 innings, 45 hits). His second go-around the majors was more impressive, and he posted a 1.17 ERA with the Cardinals that September. However, the Cards opted to go the veteran route for their rotation in 2005, trading Haren with Kiko Calero and Daric Barton to Oakland for Mark Mulder in December.
As you know, Haren has pitched great the last four years. His strikeout rate continues to creep upward (6.8 K/9 in '05, followed by 7.1, 7.8, and 8.6) with concurrent improvements in his control. While Haren isn't the most overpowering pitcher around in terms of pure velocity, his combination of fastball command with his cutter, slider, curve, and changeup gives him a complete arsenal that he knows how to use. He's been remarkably durable.
Looking for comparable pitchers to Haren, Sim Scores give us the following names through age 27: Scott Sanderson, John Lackey, Roy Halladay, Pete Harnisch, Kevin Millwood, Ben Sheets. Joey Hamilton, Jack Morris, Bruce Kison, Larry Christianson
All of those guys were good pitchers, though several lacked durability beyond this age.
PECOTA comps are also interesting: Gaylord Perry, Shane Reynolds, Frank Sullivan, Aaron Harang, Turk Farrell, Fergie Jenkins, Mike Mussina, Jack Morris, Pete Vukovich,Erik Hanson., Kevin Millwood, John Lackey, Frank Viola, Larry Dierker, Burt Hooton,Jack McDowell, Dennis Leonard, Don Wilson, John Matlack.
Again, all of those guys were good, even great, pitchers. Hall of Famers Perry and Jenkins were remarkably durable, with borderline candidates Mussina and Morris also having very long careers. A lot of the others hit the wall around age 30.
Which way will Haren break? I don't pretend to know. Historically the odds are against him, but there's no evidence in the current numbers of any imminent breakdown. If he lasts long enough, as long as Mussina or Morris, he would be a borderline Hall type. You can say that about a lot of successful pitchers, of course. . .few are able to show that kind of durability.