When the Arizona Diamondbacks traded six of their best prospects for Dan Haren in December of 2007, I was vehemently opposed to the deal from the Diamondbacks' perspective. Not only was I extremely high on the prospects involved – Outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Aaron Cunningham, Southpaws Brett Anderson, Greg Smith, and Dana Eveland, and first baseman Chris Carter – but I felt that Dan Haren was a flash-in-the-pan starting pitcher who was the product of a spacious ballpark and a stellar defense behind him.
Approximately a year-and-a-half later, it's obviously too early to grade the prospect package (although the 21-year old Anderson has a 1.89 ERA, .185 BAA, and .476 OPSA in his last half-dozen starts). But it's becoming pretty clear that I was wrong about Haren for the most part.
In Haren's July 23rd start, he allowed more than three runs for just the second time in his 20 times on the bump, shooting his ERA back over 2.00.
Haren's 2.14 ERA and 210 ERA+ are the best marks that Major League Baseball has seen since Roger Clemens posted a 1.87 ERA and 226 ERA+ in 2005. Prior to that, Pedro Martinez managed a 210 ERA+ in 2003 and a 1.74 ERA way back in 2000. Haren's 0.84 WHIP is the lowest the majors has seen since Pedro got his as low as 0.74 in that unbelievable 2000 season.
So as of right now, Dan Haren is arguably having one of the top three pitching seasons of the decade. Certainly, it is among the top five. The fact that he is "only" 10-5 for the 42-56 Arizona Diamondbacks due to a lack of run support is well-documented. But the fact that his hits totals are so low despite playing in a hitter's park with a mediocre defense behind him is not discussed nearly often enough.
Surprisingly, Haren's one hamartia so far – the home run – does not appear to be a function of Chase Field, as seven of his 13 longballs were allowed on the road. In fact, four of them came in his homecoming against Oakland in May and might be attributed to his emotional state in that start. The home runs alone account for a whopping one-third of Haren's total 36 runs allowed (34 earned), and represent part of the reason I threw around the phrase "for the most part" when bashing my prior evaluation of the ace hurler.
The other reason is Haren's history of second-half slides. As good as Haren was in his Diamondbacks debut last year, he wound up with a 4.12 ERA and .294 BAA after the All-Star Break. For his career, Danny H now has an ERA over one full run higher in the second half of the year as compared to the first half. His mediocre start against the Pirates could be the beginning of his annual trend rather than a mere bump in the road.
So even though Haren looks as though he could toss his name in the same Hat of Dominance as Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez right now, it is more likely that he returns to earth a little bit as the summer winds down. I wouldn't even necessarily call him the favorite in the NL Cy Young race with the likes of reigning winner Tim Lincecum, his suddenly-fortunate teammate Matt Cain, perennial favorite Johan Santana, unhittable-when-healthy Chris Carpenter, his workhorse teammate Adam Wainwright, homeboy Wandy Rodriguez, the young-and-alliterative Jair Jurrjens and Josh Johnson, and the Welchian Jason Marquis all enjoying fine seasons as well in the senior circuit.
But even if Haren isn't on his way to a historically great season; or even a Cy Young Award; even if he is merely solid every second half from now though 2013, when his contract extension with the D-backs runs out; and even if Brett Anderson and Carlos Gonzalez win an ERA and home run title in 2011, it's clear that this trade was not the complete disaster that I portended it to be. Dan Haren has been one of the best pitchers in baseball for the past season-and-a-half, and the Arizona Diamondbacks would be battling the Washington Nationals for the title of the Worst Team in Baseball if they did not have Haren going every fifth day.
If Brandon Webb can return to his pre-injury form next year, the Diamondbacks could surprise a lot of people in 2010.
Predicted Dan Haren Finish: 16-9, 2.64 ERA
The absence of Brandon Webb has perhaps been the biggest culprit in a disappointing season for the…