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Missing Bats: Dan Haren

November 28, 2011

This post is part of a series examining the 2011 season’s most dominant pitching performances ranked by number of swinging strikes. For an overview of the study and the full list of 2011’s top swinging strike performances, click here.

Dan Haren on September 16, 2011 (1)

Dan Haren tied for the second-most swinging strikes in a game in 2011 with 23.


The Outing – Dan Haren

Pitcher: Dan Haren
Date: July 5, 2011
Opponent: vs DET
Pitching line: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K
No. of SwStr: 23
Game Score: 92

The Angels featured one of baseball’s most effective one-two combinations this season, and co-aces Jered Weaver and Dan Haren both appear on our list of 2011’s most dominant swinging strike performances. Haren, in fact, was one of just four starters this year with two starts rated 90 or above by Game Score (the others: Ian Kennedy, Clayton Kershaw, and Justin Verlander). We’ll look first at Haren’s best outing, a two-hit shutout of the Tigers in July with nine strikeouts and 23 SwStr. Later we’ll examine Weaver’s early April start in which he fanned 15 Blue Jays in just 7 2/3 innings while recording 22 SwStr.

Haren’s July 5th start at home against Detroit was his best both by Game Score (92) and number of swinging strikes (23). That it came against a fairly strong, and eventually playoff-bound, Tigers club, featuring hitters like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta, made it all the more impressive.

The Pitches

As those who have followed Haren’s career closely know, he has experienced a resurgence since arriving in Anaheim, due in large part to his mastery of the cutter. After just dabbling with the pitch early in his career with the Cardinals and A’s, Haren increased his usage of it in Arizona, throwing it 6.6% of the time in 2008 and 23.3% in 2009. The next year, while pitching in both leagues, the trend continued, as that figure rose to 27.2%. In 2011, however, Haren truly made it his feature offering, now throwing the cutter 47.7% of the time, his fastball usage shrinking to just 34.5%.

Haren’s July 5th outing helps us understand why he fell in love with the pitch. He went to the cutter 65 times in a 122-pitch start and threw it for a strike (swinging, looking, or contact) an impressive 54 times (83%). He also generated 15 swinging strikes on those 65 cutters, good for a 23.1% SwStr% on the pitch. The cutter came in at an average speed of 86.0 MPH, just a few miles per hour slower than his good but not overpowering four-seam fastball, which averaged 90.6 MPH.

Whereas Verlander played his changeup off of his fastball, Haren can use his splitter to complement the cutter. According to Haren’s player page at Fangraphs, with pitch classifications provided by Baseball Info Solutions, Haren’s cutter and splitter averaged an identical 85.3 MPH this year, though the cutter breaks gloveside while the splitter breaks armside. Furthermore the fact that Haren’s three primary offerings all fall within the 85-91 MPH range probably makes it hard for hitters to identify them accurately and adjust for each pitch’s movement. In the July start vs Detroit, Haren threw his 79 MPH curveball, his only pitch outside that velocity band, just five times, and only once in his first 80 pitches.

Dan Haren, 7/5/11, Pitch Speeds

Dan Haren’s pitch speeds vs Detroit, 7/5/11.

The Hitters

Haren faced a more balanced lineup from Jim Leyland’s Tigers, featuring three lefties (Brennan Boesch [who was later replaced by fellow lefty Andy Dirks], Alex Avila, and Don Kelly), one switch-hitter batting lefty (Victor Martinez), and five righties (Austin Jackson, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, and Ryan Raburn). Haren dominated both groups, but like Verlander he posted slightly more impressive numbers against the opposite-handed hitters, holding the lefties hitless in 13 at bats and striking out five. The righties managed two hits in 17 at bats and struck out four times.

Tigers’ catcher Alex Avila had the roughest night against Haren, going 0-3 with two strikeouts and whiffing on four of the 14 offerings he saw (three cutters and a splitter). Like Verlander, Haren was as effective in the late innings as he was in the early going, having developed a feel for which pitches were working best and possibly the holes in each hitter’s approach. His best inning was the 8th as he retired the side in order on 14 pitches, 6 of them swinging strikes, striking out Avila and Raburn before getting Kelly to pop out.

Mike Cook © 2011

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