Dan Haren was making the Los Angeles Dodgers look brilliant, like they had acquired one of the great steals of the offseason by signing the three-time All-Star to a one-year, $10 million deal with incentives and an option. He started off looking like the Haren of old, giving life to the argument that his second half of 2013 with the Washington Nationals was more indicative of his ability than the first half.
Suffering the loss yesterday to the Chicago White Sox, Haren gave up two home runs, one of which was a two-run shot by Jose Abreu in the first inning. Haren noted the effect that giving up early runs can have on a team, saying:
"We won a game [Monday] getting those couple of errors, and you like to maintain some type of momentum, which we just haven't really done. Giving up two runs in the first inning is an easy way to kill the vibe."
Haren’s recent performances have not done much for the vibe, either, as there has been a pattern of vibe-killing opponent home runs as of late.
The right-handed pitcher started off 2014 well, posting a 4-0 record and a 2.39 ERA. In the time since, however, Haren has not looked so sharp, going 1-4 with a 4.62 ERA. So what happened to Haren over the last month that all of a sudden he cannot win? This may not come as a surprise to some, but Haren has a home run problem.
Through the early run of six starts in which Haren was pitching well, he only gave up two home runs, which has an obvious impact on the amount of runs that are generated by the opposing team and minimizes any potential damage. In the six starts since, Haren has given up eight, causing his ERA to inflate from 2.39 to 3.50.
This has been a problem for Haren, particularly in recent years. Over the past three years, Haren’s HR/FB rate has hovered right around the 13.0 percent mark, which is exceptionally high. For basis of comparison, during Haren’s most successful years of 2007 through 2011, Haren posted HR/FB rates of 9.3, 8.9, 11.7, 10.8 and 7.5 percent, respectively. In short, when Haren is able to keep the ball on the ground, he is able to keep the ball in the park, making him a much more effective pitcher.
Despite the recent upswing in homers, Haren has shown that he is more focused on keeping the ball down and inducing ground balls. In fact, his ground ball to fly ball ratio of 1.51 is the highest of his career, which bodes well for the rest of his season. That is, of course, if he can avoid the long ball on a more consistent basis.
The Dodgers could do a lot worse than Haren. It is important to remember that Haren was signed to be a back-end starter, and even with his recent struggles he has been a very solid fourth or fifth guy. The team is not counting on Haren to be the frontline starter that he once was, and it seems that Haren is trying to reinvent himself as a pitcher. He has clearly identified that the long ball has been a problem. Now all he has to do is fix it.
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