Bold Prediction #4: Dan Haren will strike out fewer than 7 K/9

Bold Prediction #3: Corey Kluber is this year’s Hisashi Iwakuma
Bold Prediction #2: Brad Miller will be a top-5 shortstop
Bold Prediction #1: Tyson Ross will be a top-45 starter (until he reaches his innings cap)

I’ve heard it through the grapevine: maybe Washington Nationals starter Dan Haren is due for a bounce-back season. In his defense, he recovered from the second-worst WHIP of his career, and his strikeout rate leaped back up to classic Haren at his peak. The problem lay in his propensity to give up home runs at an alarming rate. A blip on the radar, right? Eh…

First, the too-many-homers thing has been a problem for two years now, and it hasn’t really gotten better. Second, batters’ contact rate against Haren was the highest of his career last year. And in 2012? It was the second-worst. It’s an alarming trend, indicating that batters are squaring up his pitches better than ever before. It reinforces both the notion that home runs may continue to plague him as well as the following: last year’s strikeout rate was a fluke.

I have previously discussed the strong correlation between strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and contact/swinging-strike rates. In it, I mentioned Haren in particular, whose PITCHf/x data predicted a strikeout rate closer to 7 K/9 than 8 — and it made sense, given his decreasing strikeouts (7.25 K/9 in 2011, 7.23 K/9 in 2012, 7.07 xK/9 in 2013) and increasing contact rates against him by hitters (79.3% in 2011, 80.9% in 2012, 81.0% in 2013).

Maybe Haren will recover and start missing more bats, but projections calling for a K/9 in the high 7’s is disconcerting to me. I’ll be bold and take the proverbial under: Haren is fully in decline, and his strikeout rate will reflect it in 2014.



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