Here’s the good news about the Dodgers’ signing of Dan Haren: they’re getting a pitcher who attacks the strike zone. His career 1.87 walks-per-nine-innings is the lowest career average among active starters in the major leagues, and only once since 2008 has Haren had a walks-per-nine greater than two. Additionally, with the retirement of Mariano Rivera, Haren’s career 4.08 strikeout-to-walk ratio leads all active pitchers, and he has led his league in that statistic three times in his career. The three-time All Star hasn’t struck out fewer than 7.1 per nine innings since 2005, and he has averaged eight strikeouts per nine since 2008. He has a low career WHIP of 1.19, and despite having a combined ERA the past two seasons of 4.50, he had a respectable combined WHIP of 1.27 in those seasons. He plays his position well, averaging a .974 fielding percentage for his career, and is a decent hitter with a .215 career batting average. He has averaged 33 starts and 216 innings per 162 games in his career and has made no fewer than 30 starts in a season since 2005.
How does a guy with such a low walks-and-hits ratio have such an elevated ERA, you might ask? He gives up the long ball. In his past two seasons, Haren has given up a combined 1.5 homers per nine innings. To put that into perspective, the highest such ratio by a Dodgers starter last season was Chris Capuano’s 0.9 homers per nine. Haren’s 28 homers allowed last season was the second-most in the N.L. behind the 32 served up by Cincinnati’s Bronson Arroyo. Haren’s 247 career homers allowed is 14th among active pitchers. In his nine seasons since becoming a regular in the big leagues, the former Pepperdine star has given up fewer than 23 home runs in a season just twice. In comparison, Clayton Kershaw has allowed a combined 27 home runs in the past TWO seasons.
So for this signing to be a successful one for the Dodgers and Haren, the key will be his ability to keep the ball in the yard. In the five seasons since 2005 in which Haren gave up 1.1 or fewer home runs per nine innings, he was a combined 75-49 with a 3.28 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP while pitching three of those seasons in the A.L. Dodger Stadium isn’t the pitchers park it used to be before seat expansion infringed upon a large percentage of foul territory, and Haren certainly could have picked a less home-run friendly ballpark in the state of California in which to pitch. But Ned Colletti is certainly hoping Chavez Ravine, a solid offensive lineup and the lowered expectations that come with trying to rebound from two subpar seasons while pitching in the back of a rotation that features two Cy Young Award winners will benefit Haren in the end.
– Phil Stone