Diamondbacks Spring Spotlight: Dan Haren

Dan Haren is coming off his best season ever at 27 years old and moves to a relatively weak National League. Is there any reason not to get excited about the the prize of the Diamondbacks' offseason?

The Arrival of Dan Haren in Arizona anointed the Diamondbacks as the posh favorite pick as the best team in the National League.  That has been tempered somewhat after the Mets' acquisition of Johan Santana and the continued onslaught of injuries the Diamondbacks have endured this spring.  Unfortunately, the buzz around Haren's acquisition was worse than the pitcher's sting.   

2003 StL  3 7 14 14 0 72.2 84 44 41 9 22 43 5.08
2004 StL  3 3 14 5 0 46.0 45 23 23 4 17 32 4.50
2005 Oak  14 12 34 34 3 217.0 212 101 90 26 53 163 3.73
2006 Oak  14 13 34 34 2 223.0 224 109 102 31 45 176 4.12
2007 Oak  15 9 34 34 0 222.2 214 91 76 24 55 192 3.07
Career   49 44 130 121 5 781.1 779 368 332 94 192 606 3.82

Statistics Courtesy of FoxSports.com

Dan Haren has a career ERA under 4.00 and nearly had one under 3.00 in 2007.  His career strikeout-to-walk ratio is over 3:1, and even approached 4:1 last year.  He's as durable as they come, having made 34 starts in each of the past three seasons.

But the fuzzy-faced pitcher also comes with a set of caveats.  All of Haren's numbers came while pitching half his games in a pitcher's park and all of them in front of a good-to-great defense.  He now moves to a hitter's dream field, although the Diamondbacks figure to field a good defense as well.

But the ballpark switch could be a problem.  Haren allows approximately one homer for every 7 2/3 innings he pitches outside of Oakland, which would project to 29 homers in a neutral setting over the 220 innings that we can realistically expect from this workhorse.  But Chase Field has increased home run output by about 18% over a neutral National League park over the past four years.  That adds another five homers to Haren's projected total: a whopping 34 homers that would have tied him for second most among major league pitchers last year... with none other than Livan Hernandez.  

Make no mistake: Haren has better stuff than Livo does at this stage of their careers, and he's always displayed better control than the Cuban defector.  But those who expect Brandon Webb and Dan Haren to become the best 1-2 punch in the National League can pretty much forget it.  Webb is one of the best in the business at preventing the home run while Haren ranks as one of the worst.

But Haren figured something out last year, right?  Well, he did early on, at least.  But in the final three months of the season, Haren went 6-7 with a 4.39 ERA.  For his career, Haren has a 4.11 ERA after the All-Star break.  It's hard to say whether this occurs because of the heavy workloads that he shoulders or some other factor, but he has established a pattern of fading as the season progresses. 

This year, his first and second half splits figure to be accentuated.  Haren should succeed early on in the NL, as most of the hitters in the senior circuit aren't too familiar with his stuff.  Indeed, Haren is 7-2 with a 2.93 ERA in his career against National League teams.  But once hitters are more comfortable with his stuff and once the desert heats up to daily triple-digit weather, Haren will see a lot of hard-hit balls against him.

Haren is still a workhorse, and that's more important than ever with Doug Davis slated to miss at least a month of the season while undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer.  But speaking of Doug Davis, his strikeout rate is as close to Haren's as Webb's is.  Haren is as likely to put up Doug Davis-type numbers s he is Brandon  Webb-type stats, but neither is particularly likely.  Haren won't beat himself with walks the way Davis will, and he can't induce ground ball outs nearly as well as Webb can.

We can expect Dan Haren to begin the season well, as always, then perform like an average innings-eater in the second half.  That will work well for the Diamondbacks if Randy Johnson has reverted back to his dominant self by that point.  If not, the supposedly unparalleled Diamondbacks rotation will suddenly look very mediocre indeed.

Prediction: 13-12 4.19 - 184 K, 64 BB, 34 HR

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