The Nationals Signing of Dan Haren To A 1 Yr Deal: Why It Is Still A Bad Move For Them

Monday December 17th, 2012

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Jake Dal Porto (Baseball Writer)  

Starting pitching is already an obvious strength for the Washington Nationals. If that not evident to you, well, I’ll provide some stats. As a unit, the Nats’ starters combined to post a 3.40 ERA, and a 3.46 Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP). Both marks led the National League. Therefore, starting pitching should be labeled as their best strength.

However, Washington’s rotation became a bit slimmer when Edwin Jackson decided to part to greener pastures. Yes, technically he is still a free-agent, and the Nationals could technically prepare an offer for him. But the likelihood of that happening is about as little as can be.

Why?

Because Rizzo signed Dan Haren to a one-year, $13 Million Deal instead. OK, Haren’s reputation is surely a bit more reputable than Jackson’s. He is a three-time all-star, and has finished top-ten in Cy Young voting twice in his Ten Year Career. Meanwhile, Jackson is known to get a wild hair every so often, but has ace-esque stuff when he’s clicking. It’s just that his command is inconsistent.

So, given that Jackson’s 28-years-old and Haren’s 32-years-old, wouldn’t Washington have been off retaining Jackson over an injury-plagued veteran who’s seen better days?

Probably. Therefore, he is a bad signing for the Nationals.

His Effectiveness Is Slipping Rapidly

Eventually, all pitchers see a velocity slippage. It’s a natural cycle, and it’s combatted by a solid repertoire of off speed pitches that don’t necessarily need to be thrown at 93 MPH to get the job done. Not only did Haren see his velocity dip significantly in 2012, but he also saw his cutter become less effective.

There’s a reason why his ineffective cutter is a sign of concern. Most notably is the fact that it was the most effective pitch in baseball in 2011. Not just in the cutter department, but in general too. So a year later when the same pitch becomes practically useless, there is some obvious skepticism.

Maybe his velocity loss had something to do with that. With an average fastball of 88 MPH this past season, all of Haren’s pitches were effected by the slip in speed. He wasn’t able to set up his off speed pitches as well as he used to be able to do. Naturally, his loopy fastball saw him yield an inflated home run tally, totaling nearly a 13 percent HR to fly ball ratio. The final figure was 28 HRs he allowed, in a pitchers’ park.

Now the thing is, hoping for a bounce back year and realizing the actual odds of it happening are two entirely different concepts. One can only hope that Haren’s velocity some how increases by two MPH, and his cutter is revitalized simultaneously. But pitchers who are 31-Years Old like Haren, rarely see a turn for the better.

They Overpaid for Him

Before the Nationals signed Haren, it was tough to see him receiving more than 8 Million Dllars per year. He was coming off of a sub-par 2012 campaign, he has a track record of various back problems, and it’s really a mystery as to how he will bounce back in 2013.

So what do the Nationals do? They dish him $13 Million. Haren has never made that amount of money on an annual basis. He’s come close, to be sure. But how does it make sense that the Nationals are paying him such a figure now when he wasn’t what he was three years ago?

Well, it doesn’t. Haren signed before Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez. Therefore, he set the barometer for the starting pitchers’ market, and his contract wasn’t effected by the inflated figures Greinke and Sanchez eventually received.

For reference, Greinke will make an average annual salary of roughly $11 Million more than Haren. That’s not a surprise. But when Anibal Sanchez will make only three more million dollars than Haren annually, then the Nationals should have some explaining to do.

With all due respect to Haren, he is no Anibal Sanchez at this point in his career. Sanchez is three years younger, and is just entering the prime of his career, while Haren is basically the opposite, trending downwards.

Yes, starting pitchers are garnering some substantial checks this offseason. But the Nationals probably could’ve signed Haren at a much cheaper tab than $13 Million if they bargained a bit.

The Pressure is on Solid Starting Pitching in Washington

Good starting pitching is something that all teams covet, but for the Nationals, it’s essentially their bible.

On the strength of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmerman, Nats’ starters combined to post a 3.40 ERA and 3.46 FIP in 2012. Both set the tone in the National league, and they should see a similar pattern take shape over the next decade, as the above collection of flamethrowers are one of the younger trios in all of baseball.

Therefore, adding one bad influence could change the dynamics of the entire situation. In this case, the one bad influence could be Haren if he doesn’t play his cards right. Thus, the pressure will likely be sky-high on him to perform consistently. And with all factors considered, he might not be able to abide by those guidelines.

The really aren’t many pieces of evidence that could indicate a breakout season for Haren in 2013. His velocity is decreasing, his best pitch vanished in 2012, a variety of injuries could hold him down, and more importantly, he’s not worth this kind of money anymore.

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Jake Dal Porto is a Baseball Writer with MLB reports and a student from the Bay Area. Jake’s favorite sports moment was when the Giants won the World Series back in 2010. He loves to use sabermetrics in his work. He thinks they are the best way to show a player’s real success compared to the basic stats such as ERA, RBIs, and Wins. Jake also enjoys interacting and debating with his readers. Follow him on Twitter: 

Jake Dal Porto

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About Jake Dal Porto

Jake Dal Porto is a student from the Bay Area. He has followed Bay Area sports for years, and enjoys writing about the various Bay Area teams. He is an assistant editor at Golden Gate Sports, and the editor of Blue Man Hoop. If you need to contact Jake, email him: jakedalporto@gmail.com

Posted on December 17, 2012, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. You seem to be missing the point that Anibal Sanchez has NEVER been as solid as Dan Haren was as recently as 2011. That coupled with the fact that Anibal got $80mil total over 5 years vs the lower risk, short term contract of Haren should be enough to prove that the Nationals didn’t set the market. It shows they investigated the Greinke, Sanchez markets and realized neither one of them is going to be worth the large sums of their contracts and decided to take the same approach as last season by signing a veteran on a 1 year deal.

    Also you are not even taking into account that Haren was healthy at the end of the season and was back to his old self for his last 13 (consecutive) starts. His strikeout rate, even with his declining velocity, was only a hair below his career rate. His walk rate was right in line with his career numbers. Over those last 13 starts Haren posted a 3.58 ERA with 56 Ks over 72 innings pitched.

    It doesn’t seem fair to say that Haren is no Anibal Sanchez. They are actually very similar pitchers. They have similar strike out rates (even in haren’s down 2012 season). Haren actually walks fewer hitters. Sanchez has never pitched 200 innings. Haren has done that 7 times and still put up 176 last season despite his DL stint.

    Samchez’s injury history is actually worse than Haren. Haren has only missed 3 starts over the last 7 years. In Sanchez’s career he has had reconstructive elbow surgery, labrum surgery and missed significant time in 2009 as well.

    Yes Haren is older but so are RA Dickey, Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson, Chris Carpenter and many other starters. 32 is the age where you may not want to go long term with a guy but it doesn’t make him old an decrepit.

    • Thank you very much for posting a comment pdowdy83. I agree with you. I think the Haren signing is a a good one at one year timeline. With Strasburg and Zimmerman coming back from TJ surgeries in 2009 and 2010 respectively, Haren will provide good insurance and is an upgrade over Edwin Jackson. I also think he has a great chance to have a bounce back season, plus should find some comfort pitching in the NL. I also agree with you that this is better than the Sanchez deal as that contract is ludicrous at 5 YRs/80 Million. You are better off signing hitters for those long-term deals.

      Having said this, I never stifle my writers if they want to express their own opinions. I asked Jake to write a piece on the merits of the deal for 1 year for Haren. He does not like the move and wrote this article. I would be the same way if someone asked me to write a piece and wasn’t sold on the concept. Jake’s name will be associated with the column.

      I have no problem with presenting both sides of the argument. Jake is a good writer and does his homework for all of the pieces. If we were all able to predict the future, then all of us would be living it up in LAS VEGAS after winning Millions of Dollars on our Kreskin-Like Picks. Time will tell on things.

    • Thank you for the comment. I’d just like to point out one thing: When I said Haren was no Anibal Sanchez, I also said “at this point in his career”….

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