COMMENTARY | Ten former All-Stars have taken the field for the Washington Nationals this year, and a number of them have disappointed.
Gio Gonzalez was awful for most of April, but he has rebounded since then to look like the Cy Young contender he was last year. Jayson Werth has struggled as well, missing nearly half the season so far and hitting only .252 when he has been in the lineup. Zach Duke was also a flop, although no one really knows that he was an All-Star or why he was one since he led the league in losses the year of his lone appearance on the team. However, the biggest disappointment this year amongst the All-Star veterans has to be Dan Haren, who's limped to a 4-8 record so far and hasn't given fans too many reasons to be optimistic.
A three-time All-Star who finished seventh in the Cy Young voting just two years ago, Haren hasn't looked anything like the consistent pitcher he was earlier in his career. After a rough outing against the Colorado Rockies, his ERA has soared to 5.70 and he's leading the league in home runs allowed. Digging into Haren's stats a bit deeper, it's hard to see a clear reason for his struggles. His velocity hasn't fallen off too much, he's surrendered only 10 walks this season (against 17 home runs), and he's striking out hitters at a pace barely below his career average.
The only real explanation for Haren's struggles seems to be the most obvious one you could possibly think of. Hitters are just hitting the ball really well against him. He's yielding a .301 average this year and 16% of the flyballs he allows end up in the seats. It's possible that hitters have a been somewhat lucky in getting balls to drop, since the .320 BABIP against Haren is significantly above the league average of .296, but that could also be a product of solid contact. Overall, though, the problem for Haren is as simple as it gets: too many hits and too many home runs.
It's likely Haren will improve as the season goes on, although that's less a bold prediction than an assumption that he can't get worse. A quick projection based on his stats so far show he's on pace to yield 42 home runs and could even approach 20 losses, a rare feat of pitching mediocrity that has only been achieved once since 1980. It's difficult to see a seasoned veteran who continues to be one of the most accurate pitchers in the league maintaining that level of awfulness throughout a whole season, but fans can be forgiven if they've written off Haren. He's been one the worst starters in the league so far, and the obvious weak link in the Nationals' otherwise excellent rotation. What makes his struggles even more frustrating is that his $13 million deal for this year pays him more than Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Ross Detwiler combined.
With more than half the season to go, Haren still has plenty of time to redeem himself and bring his ERA down from its stratospheric level. His chances at a fourth All-Star game, however, just might be shot.
John Cannon is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Washington Nationals.
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