If Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Dan Haren was a typical pitcher, one who hasn't had an extreme difference between his first- and second-half splits over the course of his career, then I would absolutely be buying low on him right now from a fantasy sense.
But that's not even close to the case. We do know what traditionally happens to Haren's statistics as a season wears on -- they get worse. Buy low? What, you think this is the season he switches things up and all of a sudden starts dominating hitters in July? Not gonna happen.
Looking closer at Haren's statistics, things don't appear all that bad, even after a brutal 10-hit, eight-run, four-homer performance at Coors Field on Thursday that spiked his ERA to 5.35. Haren is posting the best strikeout rate of what has been a successful career. His walk-to-strikeout rate is crazy good. He's inducing more ground balls than normal, and until his past two outings -- one of which was at a home run ballpark (Coors Field) and the other against a Toronto Blue Jays offense with the most home runs in the majors -- even the gopher ball wasn't much of a problem. Haren's ERA is inflated, but on the surface, all signs do point to a pitcher who has been unlucky and whose numbers should improve.
Well, all signs except for one: Haren's numbers drop off significantly in the second half. And in a bit more than a month, it will be the second half.
Consider these numbers: In 2009, Haren was 9-5 with a 2.01 ERA, 0.81 WHIP at the All-Star break. He was awesome, the best pitcher in baseball, and everyone loved him. After that, he won five of 15 starts with a 4.62 ERA and more hits allowed than innings pitched. Over the past three seasons, Haren has a 2.34 ERA before the break and a 4.33 ERA after it. On draft day, I absolutely think about things like this. If I use a third-round pick on Haren, which is where his overall numbers would warrant his being taken, am I in the type of league in which I can trade him in July, or am I stuck with him? That matters to me.
That's why I cannot call Haren someone to buy low, because I don't really expect his statistics to improve that much. Even if his "luck factor" adjusts itself, the second-half fade comes into play. This has been the quintessential sell-high pitcher every July, so while I would agree things should improve in June, what's coming after that is what scares me. Haren hasn't been an awful pitcher in recent Augusts and Septembers, but his numbers have matched pitchers we can easily find on free agency. It's a fact. This is a very interesting case of a player known for first-half superlatives starting a season even worse than his drab second halves.
If you own Haren, you can't sell him for 50 cents on the dollar until he starts pitching better, and while everything does point to improved performance in the short-term, the schedule doesn't seem to help him much. He should open June at Dodger Stadium, a place he generally thrives at. After that, he figures to face the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals at home in a two-start week, then he's on schedule to meet the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and possibly Tampa Bay Rays all in a row. That doesn't sound like much fun to me.
I wouldn't panic too much about the high homer total. For the season, he has given up 16 home runs, four more than any other pitcher, and a figure that tops his season walk total. But through nine starts, Haren had allowed only eight home runs, which isn't far from the pace he established the past few seasons. He's a fly-ball pitcher who managed to win 14 games and post a 3.14 ERA last year despite the 27 home runs. In 2006 he gave up 31 home runs and still delivered a strong season. He's going to allow home runs. That's not what concerns me.
The annual second-half fade, however, that's a real problem.