Monday, November 25, 2013

Dodgers Sign Haren, Get Value Without Breaking the Bank

Late Sunday evening, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed free agent pitcher Dan Haren to one year, $10M contract to be their fifth starter. The deal includes a vesting option for 2015 if Haren throws 180 innings in 2014. My initial reaction was that it was a very good deal for the Dodgers. I decided it might be interesting to look at the deal a bit closer in Baseball Arcade's first attempt at analyzing a contract.

Over the past two season, Haren has been worth 3.3 fWAR. Last season, while missing time with shoulder inflammation, Haren threw 169.2 IP with an excellent 8.01 K/9 and similarly impressive 1.64 BB/9. Unfortunately, he was hurt by the longball with a 1.49 HR/9, leading to a 4.67 ERA. However, his FIP was far better at 4.09 and xFIP was even more optimistic at 3.67. Altogether, he was worth 1.5 fWAR. While that is far from the dominant pitcher he was from 2007-2011, he doesn't need to do much more to justify that contract. Using the commonly accepted value of a Win at $5.5M--which is certain to be inflating; some people are theorizing it may be closer to $7M--if Haren merely repeats his 2013, missed time and all, he'll be worth $8.25M. Add in a little better health and that is pretty much spot on.

But there's reason to believe he could be even better. It was only in 2011 that Haren posted a 3.17 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 3.49 xFIP and 6.2 fWAR. While Haren is unlikely to reach that level ever again, he certainly could end up somewhere between that and his more recent performance. Haren posted ERAs of 4.33 and 4.67 the last two seasons, but was significantly hurt by high HR/FB rates (12.8%,13.0%), looking more than a little unlucky. xFIP was far more kind to him with marks of 4.00 and 3.67. If Haren can pitch closer to his peripherals--and thus his xFIP--his performance could easily exceed the cost of his contract.

In fact, he may already be better. Through the first half of the 2013 season Haren was hammered for 5.61 ERA and 4.67 FIP. Batters hit .294/.337/.516 with a .370 wOBA against him. However, his xFIP sat at 3.90, hinting that he was better than his results. After landing on the DL, Haren returned with a far better second half. He posted a 3.52 ERA and 3.37 FIP while holding opponent's to a line of .222/.265/.371 with a wOBA of .279. Suddenly, Haren was not only very good but more in line with his xFIP of 3.40. The biggest changes to his repertoire seem to be in an increase in usage and effectiveness of his sinker. In the first half, he threw the pitch 32.24% of the time and opponents hit it for a BAA of .310 and a .530 SLG. In the second half, he used the sinker 40.29% of the time and batters a for a mere .219 BAA and .367 SLG. He also took nearly 3 mph off his splitter (from 85.38 mph to 82.69). The velocity shift seemed to result in an increase in effectiveness as the pitch's Whiff% rose from 11.67% to 14.35%. Batters also seemed to have more difficulty making good contact with the splitter as it's GB/BIP rate increased from 43.64% to 56.10%.

The Dodgers made a solid low-risk move in signing Haren. He doesn't have to be much better, if at all, than his last two season to be worth his contract. If his second half results where he stopped under-performing his peripherals are indicative of his future performance, there's also a good chance he could be worth quite a bit more. Steamer projects him for a 3.61 FIP and 3.0 fWAR, which would make the contract a steal. It's a smart move and could easily end up being the best deal of the offseason.

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