Can Dan Haren Be the Game-Changer the Angels Need?

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Can Dan Haren Be the Game-Changer the Angels Need?
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After a roller coaster of rumors flying around, the Angels swooped in to bring in starting pitcher Dan Haren. The deal was likely an answer to the division rival Rangers’ deal for Cliff Lee, but the Angels also brought in one of the most accomplished pitchers in Major League Baseball.

Haren, 29, is coming off one of the best seasons in his career, in which he had a WAR of 6.0 (almost MVP worthy) and was fifth in Cy Young voting. He led the league in WHIP and SO/BB.

Overall, a team that gets Haren is looking at the following: he strikes out a lot of batters, walks virtually none, is extremely durable and gives up a lot of hits. How do those things mesh together? It’s hard to tell; like any pitcher pitching on a bad team, you can never really uncover how he influences the outcome of the game.

Haren is a very good pitcher, but he has had limited time in a competitive city like Anaheim. Besides 2004 and 2006, Haren has not only not pitched in the playoffs, but has been on a team that was out of the race for the majority of the season. Anaheim is looking to take over the A.L. West and win a World Series. Can Haren take that?

One of the most popular excuses for Haren — if he needs one — is that he is surrounded by a lot of bad luck. Not only is that false, but he has actually had a lot of good luck. He has won three games in which he pitched less than six innings and gave up more than three runs, tying him for third most in the Majors. Conversely, he has only lost two games in which he pitched a quality start, the same as Freddy Garcia of the first place White Sox.

Pitching on a bad team has not effected Haren’s results at all. In fact, he has seen a lot of good luck. Although he has great numbers, it is questionable how he has affected his team, and how his team has affected him. This year, his team has a .381 winning percentage in games he started, only .003 points higher than the teams’ overall percentage. If Haren is such a good pitcher and luck hasn’t hurt his results, why isn’t the team better in games he starts?

It can all be attributed to the fact that Haren is not a game-changer. Even when he was fifth in Cy Young voting last year, his WPA (win probability added) was only 2.8 (28th in the Majors), and this year it is only 0.2.

I mentioned earlier that Haren is not used to pitching on contending teams, and thus does not usually pitch under pressure. After all, his average leverage index this year is the 61st lowest in the Majors. However, when he does pitch under pressure, he usually doesn’t shine. His clutch stat (a stat that measures how well a pitcher performs in high leverage situations) is 35th in the Majors. Not too bad, but also not remotely representative of some of the raw strikeout and walk numbers he puts up.

Haren has been one of the best pitchers in the game for the last couple of years. But it is difficult to pinpoint how much pitching on a low-stress, non-contending team has affected his results. The Angels need Haren to be a game-changer if they want to make the playoffs. And at this point, his ability to do that is unknown.

You can e-mail me at  jess@jesskcoleman.com   or follow me on Twitter @jesskcoleman .

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