Monday, October 28, 2013

Free Agent Target: Dan Haren

               The Royals will need to sign a free agent starting pitcher sometime this offseason (if they don’t go the trade route). They are losing Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen, and Wade Davis was not very good and needs to see a lot of improvement before providing value. The only guarantees for the rotation are Shields and Guthrie. Bob Dutton of the KC Star has said that Yordano Ventura has a spot in the rotation that’s his to lose. Danny Duffy will probably get a spot. That leaves 1 more spot for a 5 man rotation, but injuries happen. They’ll need more than 5 starting pitchers to get through the season. Due to the Royals’ stated budgetary limitations, if they go for a free agent starting pitcher, he’ll have to come cheap. My first free agent starting pitcher target is Dan Haren.

                Haren spent 2013 starting for the Washington Nationals and put up 1.5 fWAR. In 2012, he put up 1.8 fWAR for the Angels. However, from 2005-2011, Haren’s WORST season was 3.8 fWAR. Haren is a buy-low candidate with the potential for a rebound. This is similar to Ervin Santana’s situation last offseason. What kind of pitcher is Dan Haren?

                Haren relies mostly on a sinker/cutter/split-finger mix. He mixes in a fourseam fastball and curveball occasionally. What has decreased his value and performance over the years is a decline in velocity. The decline in velocity comes with aging, but Haren’s velocity rebounded a bit in 2013. It’s possible that Haren’s velocity decline is finished. As his velocity has declined, he has relied less on his 4 seamer and curveball and more on his cutter.

                Against both RHH and LHH, Haren increases the usage of his splitter, which is his out pitch, as he gets ahead in the count. Haren uses it more against LHH than RHH, though. Haren decreases usage of his sinker as he gets ahead in the count. Against LHH, Haren uses his cutter fairly steadily in all counts. Against RHH, Haren decreases the usage of his cutter as he gets ahead in the count.

                His splitter exhibits a bit of arm-side run (curves toward RHH) and quite a vertical drop. Against LHH, Haren tries to keep the splitter low and outside; against RHH, it appears he just tries to keep it low. His cutter shows some horizontal movement, but not much. His cutter shows a similar vertical drop as the splitter. Against RHH, Haren tries to locate the cutter low and away and shows some ability to do so, though it seems he leaves a few too many up in the zone. Against LHH, he throws his cutter mostly just inside, not high or low. He tends to stay away from the middle part of the plate. His sinker shows more arm-side run than the splitter but not as much vertical drop. It’s also faster than his splitter. He doesn’t seem to have a great ability to command his sinker, but he does have good control over it, as he can throw it for strikes.

                Overall, Haren’s “stuff” is fairly good; not great like it used to be, but definitely adequate. He also shows a fair ability to locate his stuff, though if I were scouting strictly from graphs and tables, I would say his stuff is better than his command. Any scouting statements from me should be taken with a grain of salt; I haven’t watched Haren throw in person or on TV.

                Haren’s claim to fame is that he strikes out batters more than the league average and walks batters less than the league average. In fact, his K/BB ratio is consistently near the top of the league. In 2013, Haren’s ERA/FIP/xFIP was 4.67/4.09/3.67. Haren’s peripheral stats based on strikeouts and walks show that he is a better pitcher than his results show. Haren is a good candidate to rebound in 2014.

                     Haren is a good fit for the Royals, and there are several reasons why. Haren has become a fly ball pitcher over the past few years and has been hurt by home runs in the past 2 years. The Royals, with a spacious stadium and strong outfield defense, could help increase the amount of outs from fly balls and decrease the amount of home runs from Haren. Combined with his excellent strikeout and walk rates, Haren could replace Santana in the 2014 rotation. Haren will also come cheap-ish. Haren made a roughly similar salary to Santana in 2013, but because of his poor results, his contract will be far cheaper than Santana’s. The FanGraphs readers believe that Haren will receive roughly $19 million over 2 years, which is $9.5 million annually. If Haren rebounds to give around 2-3 fWAR, which is possible, $9.5 million per year will be a decent to good value. If the Royals threw in a third year, they could probably get Haren for a Guthrie-type contract. The combination of Haren’s durability (at least 30 starts every year since 2005), fly ball tendencies, and peripherals make him a solid free agent target for the Royals.

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