Comparing Haren with the guy he’ll be replacing

I’m back from my mini-vacation through Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, three states that I hadn’t ever visited prior to last week.

I ate lots of fantastic food, heard some excellent live music and drank one or two adult beverages.

I could say that I’m happy to now be home, but that would be a bit of a lie, and I wouldn’t dare lie to you fine folks.

While I was gone, the Nationals’ signing of Dan Haren became official. Both the veteran right-hander and his new team claim that Haren’s hip and back issues, which reportedly scared some teams interested in the 32-year-old, aren’t much of a concern.

Haren insists he’s healthy, and the Nats are willing to take what they believe is just a minor risk in order to bring in a proven starter who, if he pitches to his potential, should give them one of the deepest and most talented rotations in the majors.

After the Nats had agreed to terms with Haren last week at the Winter Meetings, some Nats fans questioned (both here on the blog and on Twitter) whether Haren would provide an upgrade over Edwin Jackson, who last year filled the role of a veteran starter who made an eight-digit salary and rounded out the Nationals’ rotation.

Harensidebar.jpgJackson earned $11 million last season, while Haren will make $13 million this year. The Nationals didn’t show much interest in bringing Jackson back for 2013, declining to present him with a qualifying offer and choosing to look in another direction when searching for a fifth starter.

If you look at the two salaries and then compare Haren and Jackson’s 2012 seasons, you might wonder whether the Nationals really got the better guy.

Here’s Haren’s line in 2012: 12-13, 4.33 ERA, 176 2/3 innings, 1.291 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 innings, 1.8 WAR
Here are Jackson’s 2012 numbers: 10-11, 4.03 ERA, 189 2/3 innings, 1.218 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.7 WAR

Sure doesn’t look like the Nats upgraded based on the numbers you see there. Add in the fact that Haren is three years older than Jackson and landed on the disabled list last year, and his addition seems a bit questionable.

But let’s dig a little deeper here.

Haren is just one season removed from posting 16 wins and a 3.17 ERA over 238 innings with the Angels, a season which left him seventh in the 2011 American League Cy Young voting. Only twice since he became a full-time starter in 2005 has Haren put up an ERA above 4.00, and while his strikeout totals have dropped along with his velocity in the last couple years, his number of walks allowed (1.9 per nine innings last season) have remained pretty low, as well. He’s less of a power pitcher now that he throws in the upper 80s and low 90s, but Haren has found a way to remain effective.

Jackson, meanwhile, has registered four seasons with an ERA above 4.00 since he became a full-time starter in 2007. (His career-low ERA is 3.62, put up in 2009.) He strikes out around seven batters per nine innings, but also consistently walks around three per nine frames.

Haren’s postseason resume is fairly impressive; he’s gone 2-0 with a 3.26 ERA in seven playoff appearances (two starts). Jackson, meanwhile, has been shaky in the postseason, putting up a 5.46 ERA in nine appearances (five starts).

One could make the claim that Haren is starting to show the effects of all those 220-inning seasons, that he’s beginning to wear down. That argument could be proven true; we’ll have to see how 2013 plays out. But it should be noted that over his final eight starts last season, Haren pitched to a 2.81 ERA, striking out 41 and walking just five in 48 innings.

Once his back stopped bothering him and he fixed what he claims were some mechanical issues, Haren found the form he’s showed for much of his career.

Haren is a question mark because of his age and health, and Jackson might go on to find lots of success in 2013. But based on the two guys’ resumes, the Nationals felt that it was worth the extra $2 million to add Haren over Jackson. They targeted Haren as their guy, and they went and got him.

We’ll have to now wait and see whether Haren proves to be much of an upgrade, after all.

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