|Dan Haren -- Pitcher|
We all like to make picks, predictions, etc. It's fun and quite gratifying when you select a player to have a break-out year, and he actually comes through. Even more so when nobody else seems to finger that player for greatness. Of course, we are all almost always wrong. Except maybe Bill James or Tom Tango. They are right slightly more than the rest of us, so inevitably we use their predictions as a guide. Dizzy Valance and myself make annual picks for top Cy Young finishers and MVP finishers. Often we are wrong. Although credit goes to Dizzy for picking both King Felix and Halladay to win the award in 2010. I thought myself quite clever to pick Ubaldo Jimenez to pick up the hardware in 2010 when few people bought into his potential. He almost made me look like a genius. Or idiot savant. Likewise for my pick of Jered Weaver to win it in 2011. Almost. Our picks for the awards and divisions will be coming along with those of everybody else. For now, we'll just while away at observing those players who look to break-out in 2012, like Jimenez in 2010 or Weaver in 2011.
To select Dan Haren as a sleeper pick is admittedly a bit of a cop-out. He has been one of the top pitchers in baseball since joining the Athletics back in 2005. Haren has provided 36.3 fWAR as a starter over the past seven seasons, topping 200 innings pitched in each one. He has done all this quietly, never having pitched on the east coast, and never having been expected to be the ace of the staff. He was hidden in Oakland in the aftermath of the Big Three departing, then played second fiddle to Brandon Webb in Arizona, and then to Jered Weaver in Anaheim. Haren should emerge to stardom this season, as the Angels will be getting a lot more national attention with the arrival of Albert Pujols and the enhanced rivalry with the Rangers.
New arrival C.J. Wilson will get significant attention, as will Weaver. But my money is on Haren to emerge as the true Ace by mid-season. Weaver is likely to regress a bit, while Wilson still has much to prove (though pitching in Anaheim rather than the Ballpark in Arlington should give him ample opportunity to exceed last season's success). The addition of Pujols as well as a better season from Vernon Wells (really, he has to be better in 2012) will provide more offensive support and should lead to more of those pretty wins that have evaded Haren throughout his career.
Haren posted one of his best seasons in 2011, despite a dip in his SO/9. He still posted a respectable 7.25/9, though it was more than a SO less than his previous two seasons. If he maintains this level, his dominance should continue. His ground ball % has been consistently above average, and his HR/9 in 2011 was the lowest of his career (0.76/9). His 2011 BABIP of .272 is cause for mild concern, but the Angels field a solid defensive team to back him up. His 2011 FIP of 2.98 suggests Haren still has the out-pitches necessary to control a game.
Haren's status as one of the better pitchers in baseball is no secret among knowledgeable baseball fans, but rarely is he spoken of among the elite. Or in relation to the Cy Young. This year I expect that to change, as Haren should have an easier time getting those wins to garnish his superior pitching.
Bill James : 234 IP, 3.31 FIP
My ignorant pretty number prediction : 18+ wins, ERA around 3.00