A's ace starting pitcher Dan Haren has been a bright spot during the embattled squad's 2007 season. First, he finished the first few months with a Bob Gibson-like e.r.a.. Then he started the All-star game, inducing a Barry Bonds fly-out. Now, as long as the A's can score him enough runs, Haren is well on his way to achieving the ultimate award for any pitcher: the Cy Young.
At the beginning of the season, Haren was given the opening-day nod from new manager Bob Geren, but many considered Rich Harden the staff's ace. It didn't take long to realize that many (including myself) were dead wrong.
Most baseball fanatics depend on statistics, so let's look Haren's numbers so far:
23 starts, 13 wins, 3 losses, 2.44 e.r.a., 155 i.p., 124 hits, 121-40 strikeout-walk ratio
Haren's enormous success, in my humble opinion, is due to the coexistence of three contributing factors:
A's post game radio announcer Robert Buan was recently asked who in MLB has a similar split-finger fastball to the A's Haren. The "split" is the pitch that starts in the strike zone, mimicking the fastball, but drops to the feet of the hitter. In reply to the fan's question, Buan uncharacteristically fumbled for words on live radio. We can't blame him for doing so, however, as sometimes there are questions without answers.
Haren's stuff is not only electric, it's unique. Few pitchers have his combination of pitches and the command to put each of them on either side of the plate, high or low. Amazingly, Haren's repertoire is simple. When we start to consider the movement on said pitches, everything simplistic goes right out the window.
The former Pepperdine two-way player, sports three pitches (discounting variations on each). First, he challenges hitters with his 91-95 m.p.h. four-seam fastball - a pitch he rarely fails at locating. Then comes the first of two "benders." Haren's curveball, unlike that of his mentor: Barry Zito, is tight, and is usually thrown for strikes, His split, however, is often thrown in the dirt for the strikeout. Usually recorded in the mid-high 80's on the radar gun, it falls like the curveball, but has a more dramatic plane.
A key to Haren's repertoire is being able to throw each of his pitches for strikes in any count. Most scouts will tell you, however, that a thrower with good stuff only becomes a pitcher with pitches when he learns how to command the mound - not just the pearl in his hands.
Early on the season, before Haren's games included one lights-out performance after another, he was struggling with an obstacle even the best pitchers must overcome from time to time: how to keep your team in the game when you don't have your best, crisp pitches or your so-called, proverbial "A" game.
In the early innings of a road game, Haren had given up consistent singles. He tip-toed around the mound, disappointed in what was happening. Before he could lift his eyes from the ground, then-catcher Jason Kendall and pitching coach Curt Young jogged out to the pitching rubber and chastised their starting pitcher. Haren reportedly told the pair that he didn't have his best stuff. Young tersely replied in so many words, "You don't to have it to pitch like you have it."
From every start on, when Haren's faced with a jam (such as back-to-back hits), he charges back up the hill and wipes his brow, knowing that "stuff" can be just as much mental as it is physical.
Interviewed on the topic many times, Haren often says his transformation as a pitcher also center around the big-brother relationship with former A's ace Barry Zito. Zito is obviously a quirky guy, but Haren often credits him with serving as a calming influence during the tough times, such as when Haren started the '06 season 1-7.
With the mentoring of Zito, Young, Kendall, and others; Haren is no longer just a thrower with stuff - he's a pitcher who knows how to pitch.
When talking about any A's pitcher, even the best of them, it would be nonsensical to leave out the advantages of taking the mound in the green and gold uniforms.
First, McAfee Coliseum, is (without a doubt) the best place to pitch in all of baseball.
The expansive foul territory creates more outs: A foulout in Oakland is often tantamount to a tenth row souvenir for a lucky fan.
-The thick air at night often prohibits most fly balls from leaving the field of play (that is unless you're Bad Vlad Guerrero, as we've seen lately).
Second, A's GM Billy Beane builds his team around good defense.
Eric Chavez, Mark Ellis, and Mark Kotsay are all goldglove worthy each season.
-The A's are always near the league leaders in fewest errors committed; this season, the team is seventh best in the American league, having committed just 66 errors in 111 games.
Oakland A's writer Mychael Urban predicted recently that Dan Haren would finish the season four wins short of the league leaders but still take the Cy Young award home. As long as his pitches are crisp, his attitude on the mound is that of a bulldog, and he stays in an A's uniform, he may lead the league in wins and be the victor of his first of many awards. But even all of that doesn't guarantee future success.
After all we wouldn't want to see him throwing 82 m.p.h. fastballs with a worried look, making $126 million to wear the off-setting colors of orange and black.
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Should the A's do what they rarely do: break the bak to pay a starting pitcher in Dan Haren?
Trade him when before his contract expires for younger pitchers (10 votes)
I don't think we can afford him (9 votes)
Yes, no question (53 votes)
No, we'll find a younger, cheaper option (3 votes)
75 total votes