Recipe for a Dan Haren bounce back season


The general consensus around baseball is that the Miami Marlins improved this offseason. Exactly how much they’ve improved remains to be seen, however. Last season the Marlins finished 77-85 and in third place in the National League East. ZiPS projects the Marlins to be an 81-81 team in 2015, following the additions of Mat Latos, Dee Gordon, Mike Morse, Martin Prado and Dan Haren this winter.

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Since the trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dan Haren has been very vocal about his will to pitch closer to his home in southern California. He has openly said that he won’t relocate to Miami, and even threatened to retire if the Marlins didn’t trade him to a west coast team.

That’s some risky talk for a 34 year-old whose skills have fallen off in recent years. Haren isn’t the top of the rotation arm he once was. Last year with the Dodgers Haren had a 4.02 ERA, 4.09 FIP and a 7.0 K/9 which was his lowest mark since 2005, his first full season as an MLB starter. He was a one-win player according to Fangraphs, but a notch below replacement level by Baseball Reference factors.

I can’t imagine that an aging pitcher who will be a number four or five starter on most rotations, and whose main job at this point of his career is to log innings, has a whole lot of leverage in threatening his new team. The Marlins obviously like Haren, or else they wouldn’t have asked for him in the Gordon trade, but he didn’t come to Miami to be an impact starter. After learning that Haren might retire if he doesn’t get traded, the Marlins started shopping him around this winter. But they found no takers, and it’s very telling that no team was willing to give up any assets to acquire him. Now with Spring Training barely a week away, Haren is expected to report to Jupiter with the rest of the Marlins.

It looks like if Haren wants out of Miami, he will have to pitch his way out.

Haren seems to have accepted his fate and will start the season with the Marlins. He’s only under contract through this season, so next year — his age 35 season — he could find himself with a new club, if there’s one that wants his services.

For that to happen, Haren will have to overperform in 2015. Pitching half his games in Marlins Park might help make that happen. For his career, Haren draws a 42.5% ground ball rate, and last year got hitters to ground out 41.5% of the time. That number jumped up considerably after a 36 GB with the Nationals in 2013, which was, not coincidentally, one of the worst years of his career.

Haren also had an 11.9% home run to fly ball ratio last year, after posting a 13.0% HR/FB the season before. With his strikeout rate dipping in recent years, Haren is missing fewer bats, and much of his struggling could be attested to his terrible HR/FB rate. Ground ball pitchers tend to find success in Marlins Park, which is an odd ballpark with spacious dimensions but actually lends itself to more home runs than average.

PITCHf/x shows that Haren’s average fastball velocity was 87.6 mph, the lowest of his career. As a result, he used it less frequently in favor of his two-seamer. In 2014, Haren used his four seamer 27.9%, down from 31.9% in 2013. He used his two seamer 9.6% compared to 7.5% the previous year. Haren also experimented with a new knuckle curve, which he threw 10.% of the time last year. Haren won’t blow the ball by anyone, so he’ll have to rely on being unpredictable, pitching low and hitting his spots to keep the ball in the yard.

At 34 years-old, you wouldn’t expect Haren to get much of that velocity back. Do expect a lot of fly balls and home runs on the road for Haren in 2015. Maybe a change of scenery — and the burning desire to get the heck out of Miami and back to the west coast — will spark a Dan Haren resurgence this season.

The Marlins missed out on James Shields, and will need Haren, among others, to perform. Otherwise, the Marlins look like not much more than a .500 team right now.

Next: Marlins have checked in on K-Rod

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