It's been a rough start to 2013 for Dan Haren, who was a major offseason acquisition for the Washington Nationals. He's under contract for just one year at $13 million based on a track record of significant success over the course of a 10-year career. In seasons where he's pitched 30 or more games, and there are eight of them, Haren only posted an ERA over 4.00 twice. One of those times was last season, when he posted the highest ERA of his career (4.33) when pitching a full season.
Early this year, some raw numbers seem to indicate Haren isn't off to a much better start, and perhaps, he's on his way to a worse season. In two games, he's given up nine earned runs and 19 hits in nine innings. His first start of the season in Cincinnati was atrocious for the entire team, including the bullpen, on the way to a 15-0 loss for the team. His second start against the White Sox at home went better, even though he gave up 10 hits. His 22.2% home run per fly ball ratio is also worrisome early.
Looking at those facts, it's easy to be concerned. However, with all of those negatives, there are still a number of positives to take from Haren's early performances on the mound.
- Walks: While Haren has faced 48 batters in just two games and nine innings, he hasn't walked a single one of them. He may still struggle a little bit with pitch location in the zone, leaving too many pitches up, but he hasn't allowed a single walk. He has hit two batters, though.
- Strikeouts: Haren is averaging 10.00 K/9 early in the season. He's not known as a strikeout pitcher, but he's getting enough movement on his pitches to generate quite a few swings and misses. His K/9 ratio will come down, but it's still encouraging to see him missing enough bats to chalk up 10 strikeouts in two games.
- BABIP: Haren's Batting Average on Balls In Play is an astronomical .469 early on this season. League average is somewhere around, or just shy of, .300. With the kind of defense the Nationals have once the infield starts to limit their errors, which will happen, he is bound to have far more luck than he's had so far. That translates into fewer hits, fewer runs, and better overall stats.
-xFIP: xFIP measures what a pitcher's ERA should have been while taking into account factors like dealing with balls in play and ballpark size. Haren's early xFIP is 4.26, which graded on the ERA scale, is below average, but not terrible for a back of the rotation starter. It's certainly far and away better than his 9.00 ERA would indicate.
- Velocity: Fastball velocity was a huge concern for Haren last season with the Angels, averaging 88.5 mph on his fastball, which was the slowest in his career. It's not a huge jump so far this season, but he is averaging 89.3 on that pitch so far. The slight uptick may be a result of a small sample size early in the season when his arm is still strong, but it also may be that he is healthier than he was last season.
As Haren toes the rubber today against the fledgling Miami Marlins, who Jordan Zimmermann and the Nationals beat 10-3 yesterday, he has a significant opportunity to make this a turning point for his season. He's pitching in one of the friendliest stadiums for a pitcher in the country, and he's facing a terrible offensive lineup. I'd watch closely to see what he's able to do tonight in Miami.