The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have until Friday to decide what they’re going to do with Dan Haren. The team has a $15.5 million dollar option for 2013 or it can choose a $3.5 million buyout, which would make Haren a free agent. There’s no doubt there will be suitors for Haren — should he hit the free-agent market — but the question the Angels are probably trying to figure out is if there’s a market for him at $12 million.
If the Angels can find a trade partner, it’s likely they’d pick up the $15.5 million option and send $3.5 million in cash with Haren for whatever parts would be acceptable in return. This is obviously preferable than absolutely nothing for $3.5 million, and it’s not out of the question that the Angels might find a middling prospect or perhaps a useful bullpen piece. Or, another option would be to simply pay the man with the hope he can regain the form that saw him average better than 5 WAR in the past seven seasons. Given their recent dangling of Haren on the trade front seems to suggest the team thinks such a hope is foolhardy.
A year ago, the 2013 option looked like an absolute no-brainer, if not a bargain. But Haren, 32, submitted his first legitimate clunker since becoming a regular starter with Oakland in 2005. His 4.33 ERA and 1.29 WHIP are both career highs, and his 19% strikeout rate is his lowest since 2006 — just a notch above the 18.2% American League average.
Many observers point to his rising walk rate and his declining strikeout rate as the smoking guns with Haren but he’s been successful, even very successful, in the past with rates at his 2012 levels or worse. And it’s not as if Haren was absolutely terrible in 2012, he just simply wasn’t anywhere near as good as anyone reasonably expected — and at 1.8 WAR, just not worth $15.5 million.
So if he wasn’t all that bad and he’s had prior success with mediocre strikeout figures, then what’s to say the Angles, or any other potential team, shouldn’t expect a bounce back? For Haren, the problems appear to be much deeper.
Haren was simply eminently more hittable that he has been in the past, and as he’s been easier to make contact off of, his reaction is to nibble. Here are his contact rates and his zone% over the past four seasons:
Haren used to pound the strike zone and still manage about a 10% swinging strike rate, but in 2012, he worked far more outside the zone and produced the lowest swinging strike rate since becoming a regular starter at 8.7%.
If there is a smoking gun, it’s pretty obviously his velocity. Haren has never been a fireballer, but where he used to live in the 90-91 range, he’s now sitting at 88.5 mph. His cut fastball used to be 86-87 mph and in 2012, it averaged 84.5. His splitter went from 86 to 84. One might be able to get away with such a decline in velocity if they had other pitches to lean on, but those three pitches combined make up roughly 90% of his repertoire. There’s not much else to go to.
The unknown about 2012 was just how long Haren was pitching in pain. For the first time in his career, Haren spent time on the disabled list with a lower back strain. He finally revealed the injury to the club after he was torched between June 9 and July 3, giving up 26 earned runs over 27 innings pitched and surrendering nine home runs, striking out just 18 batters.
When he returned on July 22, Haren saw far better results. Over his final 13 starts, Haren posted a 3.58 ERA, giving up 68 hits over 73 innings pitched, holding opposing batters to a .243/.282/.432 line. This looked a heck of a lot more like the guy that held opponents to a .235/.265/.365 slash line in 2011.
In fact, if you look at his monthly FIP in 2012, it’s not hard to see where he might have been pitching hurt:
If he pitched most of June while battling injury, then maybe there’s an explanation for that spike. When he returned, he didn’t revert back to the old Dan Haren, but the results were at least far more encouraging. His strikeout rates and walk rates, not surprisingly, mirrored this trend:
At the time of the injury, there was a reference to the fact that he wasn’t getting his regular lower half drive towards the plate. There was some thinking that this could have caused the precipitous drop in velocity. But when Haren returned from the disabled list, the velocity didn’t come back.
What is particularly interesting is that Haren changed his mix of pitches upon his return, perhaps recognizing that his four seam fastball and his cutter weren’t getting the job done.
Haren leaned on his splitter far more after returning from the disabled list, and actually had better (but not great) results. Given that his splitter was the only pitch in his repertoire above league average (at roughly one run above average per 100 pitches), it could have been a calculated move. Whether this is a change that he’ll carry into 2013 remains to be seen, but his post-injury results have to at least look encouraging to a team that might be starved for pitching.
Mixed into the trade scenario would be another incentive for a team to acquire Haren reflected in the new rules of the collective bargaining agreement, detailed nicely by Dave Cameron yesterday. Should Haren rebound significantly and the acquiring team is priced out of his asking price, they could at least put forward a qualifying offer which would result in a compensation draft pick should Haren decline and sign elsewhere (for more on qualifying offers, Jeff Sullivan has a far more detailed piece from Tuesday as well).
The starting pitching market is pretty thin. Jake Peavy has already been taken off the shelf, leaving names like Zack Greinke, Hiroki Kuroda, Kyle Lohse, and Ryan Dempster. There are other interesting arms available, but it’s not a deep group, and most of these names are going to command expensive, multi-year contracts. This should make it possible for the Angels to move Haren because $10-12 million isn’t a pile of cash, you’re not mortgaging the future, and it shouldn’t require much in terms of talent in trade. If the Angels are willing to eat $3-4 million and not ask the moon for players in return, there should be plenty of teams interested in a one year risk/reward Dan Haren, even if it’s mostly risk involved.