The Los Angeles Dodgers picked up Dan Haren as a free agent yesterday, with a $10 million one-year contract that has a vesting option for 2015. One of the best starting pitchers in baseball a few years ago, Haren has settled into being an inning-eater the last couple of seasons with the Angels and Nationals. Does he have a shot at rebounding? Let's take a look at his career.
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 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- entering 2002, 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, which was a lot for a minor league starter even a decade ago. 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 likely remember, Haren blossomed with the Athletics, then was involved in a major trade with the Diamondbacks, with a 6.1 WAR and 138 ERA+ in 2008 and a 5.7 WAR with 142 ERA+ in 2009. After another excellent season with the Angels in 2011 (6.2 WAR), he's been in a steady fade since, still posting strong K/BB ratios but bothered by nagging injuries, coming in under 200 innings with weaker-than-league average ERAs and WAR values well below his career norms at 1.8 in '12 and 1.5 in '13.
Haren is 33 now. In terms of historical standing, Haren currently has a 129-111 record with a 3.74 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and a 1736/426 K/BB ratio in 2046 innings with a 112 ERA+. His career WAR is 38.8. If his career ended today, his WAR value would put him in a neighborhood with Mike Garcia (40.2 WAR in 2175 innings), Dizzy Dean (38.7 in 1967), Kevin Tapani (38.5 in 2265) Tom Gordon (38.3 in 2108) Don Newcombe (37.7 in 2155), and Dean Chance (37 in 2147) among pitchers with a similar number of innings pitched.
However, Haren's career isn't over. Through age 32, Haren's top comparables by Bill James Sim Score are Bill Gullickson, Josh Beckett, Kevin Millwood, John Smiley, Jake Peavy, Doug Drabek, John Lackey, Kevin Appier, Greg Swindell, and Mark Gubicza. Beckett, Peavy, and Lackey are exact contemporaries so we don't know how they will turn out.
Of the others, Gullickson won 20 games at age 32 but faded quickly after that and was finished at 35. Millwood hung around until 37. He had a strong year at age 34 but was a shadow of his former self after that. Smiley got injured at 33 and never pitched again. Drabek was a mediocre inning eater at 33 and 34 but collapsed at 35. Appier remained effective at 33 and 34 but collapsed at 35. Swindell remained effective until age 36 but was a reliever by this point in his career. Gubicza got hurt at 33 and was out of baseball by 35.
The historical parallels don't seem too wonderful here, but the Dodgers are only on the hook for one season, and Haren's component ratios are still solid enough. The Fangraphs Steamer projection system projects a rebound with a 3.0 WAR.
Although it seems his career peaks are past, I think Haren is a good pickup for the Dodgers. He still throws strikes, still has an excellent K/BB ratio (151/31 this past season) and seems like an ideal fourth/fifth starter for them. They don't need him to throw 220 innings, but I bet they can get 190 solid frames out of him.
More from Minor League Ball:
- Minor League Ball Daily Discussion, November 25, 2013
- Concussion Chronicle: Almost there...
- Atlanta Braves preliminary prospect list for 2014 (revised)
- Prospect Retrospective: Jason Vargas. Can he become Jamie Moyer? Or is he Mark Redman?
- Jason Vargas: a major award?
- Angels trade Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk to Cardinals for David Freese, Fernando Salas
- Prospect Retrospective: Tim Hudson, RHP, Giants
- 2014 MLB Draft Profile: Alex Verdugo, RF/LHP, Tucson, AZ High School
- A Mickey Mantle autograph tale
- The Jurickson Profar/Nick Castellanos trade
- Minnesota Twins prospect Eddie Rosario suspended for 50 games
- Concussion Chronicle: The band is playing different tunes
- 2014 MLB Draft Profile: Alex Jackson, C/RF, Escondido, CA High School
- Minor League Ball Daily Discussion: Replacing ERA?
- Concussion Chronicle: Summary of the Symptoms