The Angels’ starting pitching was one of its biggest strengths in 2011. While most of the attention went to Jared Weaver, who put together a phenomenal season, finishing second in the AL Cy Young voting to Justin Verlander, while posting the lowest ERA for an Angel since Chuck Finley in 1990. But while Weaver has been adding substantial sizzle to the rotation, it may be co-ace Dan Haren who will give the team it’s sustained substance. In nine years as a starting pitcher, Dan Haren has missed zero starts, making him the Iron Man of starting pitchers for the Angels, a throwback to the old days when pitchers threw a ton of innings and struck guys out while doing it.
It could be argued that Haren has been the most consistent pitchers in baseball since 2005. During that seven-year span, Haren ranks first in the Majors in starts (237), first in quality starts (163), second to C.C. Sabathia in innings pitched (1581 1/3), and second again to Sabathia in strikeouts (1,368). He holds the longest active streak of seasons with 215 or more innings pitched (7) and is one of only three current pitchers, along with Sabathia and Roy Halladay, to post seven straight seasons with 12 or more wins. On top of the amount of time he’s put in over the last seven seasons, he’s also been productive, as he sits tied for fifth in WHIP (1.15), 15th in ERA (3.49), and 20th in opponents’ batting average (.248).
In 2011, his first season as an Angel, Haren continued his impressive consistency even at 31-years old, going 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA, finsihing the year tied for the Major League lead in starts (34), while being first in the AL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.82) and third in innings pitched (238 1/3). If not for the Cy Young-type season Weaver had in 2011, this staff would probably be Haren’s to lead. As it stands, he’ll slide in just find being the co-ace of the staff in 2012 and making the Angels rotations one of the best in baseball.
So how has he done it? Aside from the sheer luck it takes to avoid freak injuries or accidents, Haren has maintained his success by keeping it simple. His delivery is nice and easy, without a great deal of motion to wear and tear on his joints, which makes repeating the motion time and again a breeze. Haren has also learned where to pitch, and consistently keeps his pitches low in the zone, minimizing the number of fly balls that turn into home runs. Most importantly, Haren has learned to work with what he has and to adapt as his skills change. Just four years ago, Haren was hitting 92-93 mph with his fastball, and could ratchet it up to the mid-90s when he needed to. Now, his fastball tops out at 88-89 mph, and Haren feels good with it, saying his “command is better now than it ever has been.” Haren understands that his game is about control and keeping hitters off balance now, and not blowing fastballs past hitter like it once was, and he’s adapted his style to suit that.
Haren’s biggest adaptation through the years is also the one that makes him so effective: developing an effective cut fastball. While every pitcher tries to master it, Haren has made the cutter his signature pitch, and gets most of his outs either with fastballs or one of several variations of a cutter. He started playing with the cutter in 2005, then used it sparingly in the 2007 and 2008 seasons. In 2009, he began to use it more heavily and has continued it’s prominence in his pitch selections. In 2009, Haren threw the cutter 23.3% of the time, in 2010, 27.2%, and last season used the cutter almost half the time, accounting for 47.7% of his pitches, according to FanGraphs.com.
The question going forward for Haren will be how his increased use of the cutter affects his trademark durability? Historically, the cutter has been the most problematic for pitchers’ arms, often being traced to injuries and arm fatigue. However, some pitcheres have used the pitch extensively without harm, like Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, and Haren isn’t worried about injuries because of using it. With seven years of practice, it’s likely Haren’s done his due diligence in learning to throw the pitch without damaging his arm. Expect his work-horse durability to continue in 2012 and Haren to be the rock that anchors the heart of the Angels rotation for several more years to come.