By Tommy Rancel //
With Cliff Lee off the market, the Arizona Diamondbacks held one of the few aces (Dan Haren) left on the market. Instead of getting a king’s ransom in return, they settled for a ten (Joe Saunders), a five (Rafael Rodriguez), and a pair of wild cards (Patrick Corbin and a player to be named later). The Dan Haren trade is a blow to NL-only owners; however, to members of AL-only leagues…welcome to Christmas in July.
On the surface, Haren doesn’t look like a “significant” upgrade over Saunders. Both pitchers have sub-.500 win-loss records and near-matching ERAs around 4.60. That’s where the similarities end.
Unlike Saunders, Haren is actually better than his ERA suggests; much better. Despite the high ERA, Haren is striking out a batter per inning. His smooth 9.00 K/9 rate is a career high. Also unlike Saunders, Haren does not walk many batters. He’s handed out just 29 walks in 141 innings (1.85 BB/9), and owns a career walk rate below 2.0. According to those metrics, Haren has been a top-five pitcher in the NL. Where he has struggled in 2010 is home runs allowed, batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and strand rate.
It’s true that Haren deserves partial blame for his rather high home run rate. He has allowed nearly as many home runs (23) as walks (29). His home run per nine rate (HR/9) of 1.47 is a career worst and nearly half a homer higher than his career 1.07 rate. Outside of bad luck, Haren’s (former) home ball park is not helping matters either.
According to ESPN’s park factors, the 29-year-old is moving from a home ball park that ranks among the most generous in home runs per game to one that ranks near the bottom (22nd). Digging even deeper into park factors, Statcorner.com tells us Chase Field is extremely friendly to left-handed batters in terms of the long ball.
Looking at Haren’s splits for 2010, he is allowing more home runs to lefties (1.81 HR/9) than righties (1.22 HR/9). His home run rate at home (1.57 HR/9) is also higher his road rate (1.35). In fact, 17.1% of flyballs hit against Haren in Chase Field clear the wall. That number drops to 11.2% on the road. For his career, his HR/FB rate is 11.1%. It is not a guaranteed fix for the gopherball problems that have plagued Haren, but a move to Angels Stadium certainly won’t hurt.
In addition to the home run rate, Haren has been ridiculously unlucky on balls in play. His current BABIP of .350 is nearly 50 points higher than his career .304 level. This is odd given the rates in types of balls put in play against him (line drives, flyballs, groundballs) have not drastically changed.
His line drive rate (LD%) of 20.3% is nearly identical to his 20.0% career number. Since line drives are the type of batted ball most likely to fall for hits, it is strange that Haren’s BABIP has climbed so high. If Haren’s current BABIP regresses toward career levels, expect a significant drop in ERA.
Meanwhile, Haren’s strand rate has fallen to 70.9% from 2009’s 77% and his career 73.2%. Pitchers will often see more of the runners they put on base score as a result of a shaky bullpen. Arizona’s pen owns a stratospheric 6.50 ERA, the worst mark in the majors and a full run and a half higher than the next worst team. Better bullpen support could help Haren’s strand rate, and also his wins total, with fewer saves likely to be blown once he leaves the game (although the Angels rank a poor 25th in MLB themselves with a 4.50 bullpen ERA).
Normally, when a pitcher moves from the NL to AL, we worry about league adjustment. Haren made 102 starts for the Oakland Athletics. In those three years he went 43-34 with a 3.64 ERA. He also struck out 531 batters while walking just 153 in more than 600 innings of work.
If you’re in a mixed league, hold the line for all the reasons above. In NL-only leagues, I’m sorry. On the other hand, in a competitive AL-only format, you might as well break your free agent budget.