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« Hisashi Iwakuma's Logic-Defying Fastball | Main | Peter Gammons: Time for a Break »
Friday
Jun142013

Decline, Illustrated. Featuring: Dan Haren

Once upon a time, Dan Haren was what, in baseball, could only be referred to as a horse: 33-34 starts, 200+ innings, and each one, valuable. He flew a tick under the radar pitching for no-name teams in Oakland and Arizona, but when a pitcher is good, people will notice. 

Dan Haren is also the kind of pitcher that you could call, "unlucky." In his 11 years as a major league starter, he's never won more than 16 games. He's also had six seasons where he lost 10 or more games, with career highs of 13 in 2006 and 2012. And considering his 4-8 record this year, chances are that he will set a new career high (low?) by the end of the 2013 season.

But pitchers' won-loss records are silly. They are hardly the proper barometer for evaluating a pitcher's current performance. Nor is it right to use pitching wins and losses as a predictive tool for future performance.

So then, what should you use for predicting future performace.

You can use xFIP, which might be the best predictive pitching stat available on the interwebs.

xFIP stands for Expected Fielding Independent Pitching. It's a stat that holds pitchers accountable for the things that they can control (walks, hit batsmen, strikeouts and home runs). It assumes league average fielding and league average HR/FB rates. It is one of the best stats available for predicting a pitcher's future performance. For a more detailed definition of xFIP, go here.

Dan Haren's current xFIP for 2013 is 4.09. Which is far less unsightly than the atrocious 5.70 ERA he is currently carrying around on his back. But a 4.09 xFIP would be a career high for Haren.

But stats like xFIP are still foreign to a majority of the baseball loving population.

So how about this?

How hard is Dan Haren being hit this year compared to, oh, let's use 2011 and 2008?

In 2008, Haren was an All-Star who finshed the season with an ERA of 3.33 and an xFIP of 3.16. He also had a WAR of 6.1. In other words, Dan Haren was fantastic in 2008.

In 2011, Haren had the second lowest WHIP of his career at 1.024, an ERA of 3.17 and an xFIP of 3.29. He also set a career high for single season WAR with 6.2. In other words, Dan Haren was also fantastic in 2011.

But let's illustrate this better with pictures, shall we.

Dan Haren 2008 SLG% Against.

 Dan Haren 2011 SLG% Against

Dan Haren 2013 SLG% Against

Look at how much redder this season's map is.

The slowing of Haren's fastball 

  • In 2008, Haren's fastball topped out at 96.3 MPH, and averaged out at 91.1.
  • In 2013, Haren's fastball has topped out at 92.3 while generally sitting at 89.2. 

Those two to three MPH of difference can be huge, especially when a pitcher is not locating his pitches as well as he did five years prior. 

Some pitchers, as they've aged, have learned to adjust to their diminishing velocity.

Last year, I thought that Haren was entering into the decline phase of his career, but held out hope that he would fade slowly in the same way that Kevin Milwood faded.

This year, I know that Dan Haren is declining. But it doesn't look like the Milwood comp is going to hold water. It looks like Haren's career is going the way of another comp of his according to Baseball-Reference, Doug Drabek. Both of whom (Drabek and Haren) were dependable and outstanding pitchers through their age-30 seasons. They also both fell of a steep cliff afterwards.

Drabek held on until he was 35. As for the 32-year old Haren, with the way that teams are starting to pinch every penny that they can, I fear he won't make it past next season.  

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