Haren’s First Start a Major Concern for the Nationals

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Posted April 7, 2013
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In his first start for the Nats, three-time all-star Dan Haren failed to impress, allowing 6 earned runs on 9 hits in just 4 innings in the Nats 15-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds Friday night. The 32-year-old signed a one-year contract worth a robust $13 million this off-season with expectations that he would effectively replace the departing Edwin Jackson in the rotation. Despite a widely reported drop in velocity in Haren’s fastball from 2011 to 2012, the Nats front office was confident Haren had the veteran savvy to get hitters out despite his diminishing heater.

“The beginning of last year, I saw my velocity was a little bit down and was trying to get it back to where it was, which led to me getting hit around because I was leaving balls up in the zone, trying to overthrow,” Haren says. “I went on the DL a little bit, tried to find my mechanics at the end of the year, found my mechanics, just backed off, just tried to pitch more like myself and not look at a radar gun because everybody’s so obsessed with it now. Toward the end of the year, I just started pitching like myself and not really caring that it was 88-90 (mph).”

According to FanGraphs velocity chart on Haren, his velocity decreased following his stint on the DL, yet his pitching stats did improve following the injury. His ERA lowered from 4.86 before his injury to 4.33 by the end of the year, which is a positive sign indicated he could potentially regain his form this season. His first start for the Nats Friday, however, demonstrated that he still does not fully understand how to pitch effectively at the lower velocity.

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Upon signing Haren this offseason, GM Mike Rizzo said “He’s a workhorse. He’s got quality stuff. His numbers, sabermetrically, are off the charts. And our scouts really love the command of his pitches, his repertoire and his competitiveness.” The question Nats fans must ask is was Rizzo scrutinizing Haren’s  drop in velocity, decrease in swinging strike % (shown above), and increase in ERA and WHIP enough? Haren’s career stats are unquestionably stellar, but he cannot be viewed as the same pitcher now as from his Oakland and Arizona days. Haren will most likely pitch again next Thursday at home against the White Sox where we will get our next chance to see whether he can be a solid 5th starter, or whether he’ll be a $13 million waste.

John Huffstetler

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