Dan Haren was signed by the Washington Nationals on December 7 to a one year contract. An article by Yahoo! Sports stated, "earlier in the week, a person familiar with the talks told The Associated Press it would be worth $13 million."
Haren's signing was presumably to replace the departing Edwin Jackson. The 29-year-old Jackson finished the 2012 season at 10-11 in 31 starts, with a 4.03 ERA and 168 strikeouts.
A 10-year veteran, Jackson was signed for his postseason experience. But he surrendered four runs while lasting only five innings in his only postseason start, a Game 3 loss in the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Jackson was not given a qualifying offer by the Washington Nationals. As Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post wrote on November 2, "The decision seemingly cuts the cord between the Nationals and Jackson."
Now, the 2012 season was not much kinder to Dan Haren. In fact, the 32-year-old from California was just as bad as if not worse than Edwin Jackson, going 12-13 in 30 starts with a 4.33 ERA and 142 strikeouts. Haren's loss total tied for the highest in his career. And when excluding the 2003 and 2004 seasons in which he totaled 19 starts, Haren's ERA and strikeout total in 2012 were the worst and second worst of his career, respectively.
Another sub-par season by Dan Haren will not help the Washington Nationals too much. But an in-form Dan Haren will help the Washington Nationals get to the World Series. And here's why.
Dan Haren has been a good starting pitcher during his 10 years in the major leagues. He has a career record of 119-97, with a 3.66 ERA and 1585 strikeouts. His 162-game average equates to a 14-11 record with a 3.66 ERA and 185 strikeouts, along with a solid 1.181 WHIP and an impressive 4.01 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
But Dan Haren has shown on multiple occasions that he is capable of more. While achieving his career average of 14 wins three different times, Haren has reached 15 wins once and 16 wins twice. Haren has finished six different seasons with an ERA below 4.00, and in four of those seasons he finished with an ERA below 3.50. Dan Haren has totaled 200 or more strikeouts three different times, and reached 190 strikeouts two other times. Haren's 1.003 WHIP led all of baseball in 2008, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio led his respective league three different times (per BaseballReference.com).
Furthermore, Dan Haren has shown the ability to rebound after a sub-par season. To illustrate this point, let's look at Haren's ERA. Of the three pitching "Triple Crown" statistics of win-loss total, ERA and strikeouts, ERA is most indicative of a pitcher's skill. Win-loss record is not entirely indicative, as good run support can boost the win-loss total of an average pitcher, and poor run support can stifle the win-loss total of a good pitcher. And strikeouts are not entirely indicative either, as a strikeout specialist can have a high ERA, and a ground-ball specialist can have a low ERA.
With all this mind, let's look at Dan Haren's ERA, again ignoring the 2003 season when he only had 14 starts, and the 2004 season when he only had five starts. Starting in 2005, each season in which Dan Haren had a high ERA was followed by a season in which he had a lower ERA.
In 2006, Haren's 4.12 ERA was followed by his career-low ERA of 3.07. And in 2010, Haren had a 3.91 ERA, but returned the next season with a 3.17 ERA. If this trend continues, Haren's 4.33 ERA in 2012 will be followed by a drastically lower ERA in 2013. Such a performance will give Washington a formidable fourth starter in their rotation.
The Nationals offense should help Dan Haren pick up a significant number of wins for his new employer. In 2012, the Nats were fifth in the NL in runs scored with 731, for an average of 4.5 runs per game over the entire season. A similar performance by the Nats offense in 2013 would offer enough run support on a consistent basis for an in-form Dan Haren to help the Nationals return to the postseason.
And Dan Haren will also give the Nats a formidable rotation once the postseason arrives. Therefore, Washington will have an advantage over their opponents as not all playoff teams can boast the same pitching depth.
In his postseason career, Haren is 2-0 in two starts and seven total appearances, with a 3.26 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 19.1 innings pitched. Yet Haren has not pitched in the postseason since the 2006 season with the Oakland Athletics, when he reached the ALCS.
An in-form Dan Haren pitching for the Washington Nationals will not only allow Haren to return to the postseason, but to reach the World Series as well.