Winding down the last weeks of the season, one of the most talked about story lines as Dodger fans look ahead is if Dan Haren‘s 2015 option will vest. To catch you up on what is going on: Dan Haren has an option for 2015 that vests if he pitches 180 innings in 2014 (the regular season only; postseason innings do not matter). If he pitches the 180 innings, he is guaranteed at least* 10 million dollars in 2015. After two consecutive seasons of not reaching 180 innings pitches, Dan Haren has 150 innings pitched so far in 2014 and can realistically get to the 180 innings pitched mark, but let’s see what would have to happen for this to occur.
*I say at least because he does have performance bonuses in 2015, similar to those in 2014. He earns $250,000 for 24, 27 and 30 starts. $500,000 for 32 starts. $250,000 for 150, 160 and 170 innings and $500,000 for 180 and 190 innings.
First off, it’s a separate debate whether or not the Dodgers should want Haren to reach this threshold. I would say that many fans do not want him to reach 180 innings pitched, and I would completely agree. In a season where pitching has dominated, Haren has posted a 4.44 ERA and 4.45 FIP, making it so Haren will probably have his 3rd consecutive year with an ERA and FIP above 4. His K/9 rates have decreased for the third year in a row, and his home run rates keep rising. A one year deal seems like a low risk move, until you factor opportunity cost; who could be pitching instead of Dan Haren and who could the Dodgers allocate $10 million dollars to other then a below average pitcher?
Dan Haren presumably makes his next start on August 29 against the Padres. Theres a chance the Dodgers could swap Greinke and Haren since Greinke would still be pitching on 5 days rest and he could be slotted behind Kershaw. But lets say Haren makes that start, since we’ll be looking at the scenario that gives Haren the realistic maximum amount of starts.** If Dan Haren were to pitch on Friday and pitch every 5th day after that (not every 5th GAME, but every 5th day) then Haren will make 7 more starts. If he averages 4.1 IP per start, he would reach just about 30.1 innings pitched which would let the option vest. Haren has averaged just above 5.2 innings per start, so averaging 4.1 IP every 5th day won’t be difficult. This scenario seems a bit unrealistic given that he won’t pitch every 5th day but still something to keep in mind.
**Let’s label this worst case scenario. The darkest timeline.
Now, let’s say Haren pitches on Friday and pitches every 5th game. This scenario is a bit more realistic but not a guarantee as well given that the Dodgers can skip Haren with some off days to give Kershaw/Greinke/Ryu an extra start or they can mix the rotation to push Haren back. This could be done in case they fear the 180 innings pitched benchmark or simply if Haren pitches so poorly he justifies being removed from the rotation. Anyways, if Haren pitches every 5th game starting this Friday then he pitches in 6 more games. He would need to average 5 innings pitched per game to get to 180 innings pitched, which if Haren pitches as average as he has all year is realistic.
So if Haren remains a regular in the rotation and does not get skipped often or replaced, he will probably pitch 6 more games this season and reach the 180 innings with 5 innings pitched per game on average; If he is not averaging 5 innings pitched per game in his next few starts, I would assume he would be replaced soon due to ineffectiveness. He could still reach 6 games pitched if he gets pushed back a couple of days, so a simple one day swap that could occur this Friday with Greinke won’t solve everything.
If Dan Haren pitches in only 5 more games, it becomes more difficult for him to reach 180 innings pitched. He would need to average 6 innings per start, which he hasn’t done this year, in order to reach 180 innings pitched. In the last month, Haren has averaged less then 5.2 innings pitched per start. The last time Haren had a 5 game stretch where he averaged 6 innings per start, was from May 12th to June 3rd where he pitched 31 innings over the 5 game stretch.
The most innings he has pitched throughout a 5 game stretch this year is 32.1 innings, which occurred from April 19 through May 12th. This shows that it has been a very long time since Haren has pitched 30 innings over a 5 game stretch, which could lead you to be skeptical that Haren could do so for the last 5 games of the year. Especially when you consider the shorter leash the Dodgers will have on Haren with more arms in the bullpen and the higher importance stressed on September games, you realize it would be difficult for Haren to reach 180 innings unless he pitches great.
With all this said and done, I would be surprised if the Dodgers gave Haren more then 5 starts. The Dodgers don’t have great pitching depth behind him, with Correia, Frias, Zach Lee, and Chris Reed not being sure bets to to be any better, but being on the hook for $10 million to a pitcher as bad to average as Haren would be a difficult scenario for the Dodgers. If Haren is given anything more then 5 starts, he probably does get his option to vest. One simple start could be a $10 million difference. Let’s see what happens.