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Sunday, July 25, 2010
Updated: July 26, 12:46 PM ET
Haren's value increases with Angels

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

The Twitterscape went abuzz around 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, thanks to a pre-trade-deadline move that could reshape the AL West race. But will it reshape your fantasy league?

The Angels sent Joe Saunders and three prospects to the Diamondbacks for Dan Haren. More on the prospects in a moment, but the one thing you need to know about them is that none is expected to be an elite player. For this year, certainly, this is a swap of Saunders and Haren, and from a fantasy perspective it isn't close. Haren is a strikeout artist. Saunders is a lucky-win artist. Never the twain shall meet.

The player of most interest here, obviously, is Haren. His owners will be concerned that a move from the National League to the American League could be hell on what has already been something of a hellish season. Oh, sure, Haren has fanned 141 batters in exactly 141 innings, but he's also posted an ERA of 4.60 and allowed a whopping 23 homers so far in 2010 (which ties him for second in the majors, behind only former teammate Rodrigo Lopez). Haren's average draft position (ADP) placed him sixth among all starting pitchers this spring, squarely in the fourth round of fantasy drafts, yet to date his performance sees him ranked only 58th among starters on ESPN.com's Player Rater. He's had his moments, but overall he's been disappointing.

And more disappointing is the fact that Haren is known as a first-half pitcher. His career ERA before the All-Star break is 3.29 and his WHIP is 1.10; after the break, those numbers are 4.27 and 1.32. If he's been this erratic April through June, goes the logic, how badly will he pitch July through September?

I say, don't panic.

First off, I'm not convinced there's truly such a thing as a "first-half" player or a "second-half" player. I remember a few years ago, Mike Lowell was known as a first-halfer, someone you could rely on needing to trade away in July. There were a few seasons' worth of data to back it up. And then Lowell went on a crazy second-half tear. I don't think these things are set in stone.

Next, there's the league switch. That was certainly an issue last year, when it seemed every journeyman hurler would jump to the Senior Circuit and suddenly be great. The lineups are deeper in the AL because of the designated hitter and what may or may not be a scarier set of elite offenses. However, whereas last season AL pitchers had a collective 4.45 ERA compared with 4.19 for NL pitchers, this season those numbers stand at 4.19 and 4.11, respectively. In addition, Haren himself has been remarkably consistent in his performance between the leagues: his career ERA and WHIP against the AL are 3.71 and 1.20, while his career ERA and WHIP against the NL are 3.71 and 1.19.

There's a ballpark switch to consider. Chase Field is one of the hitter-friendliest parks in baseball. In terms of runs scored, the Diamondbacks' home has been a top-five offensive park in each of the past five seasons. By contrast, you wouldn't call Angel Stadium an utter pitching haven, but it's 25th out of 30 ballparks so far this season in terms of proclivity for runs scored. I daresay the stadium change is at least as much a factor in Haren's favor as the league switch is to his detriment.

Finally, Haren escapes perhaps the majors' worst bullpen, where the closer situation has been nothing short of a nuclear wasteland. Does Brian Fuentes always instill confidence in Anaheim? No. But compared with the likes of Chad Qualls and Aaron Heilman, Fuentes is the picture of stability, and there are some solid arms ahead of him in the L.A. 'pen.

I've liked Haren as an undervalued player for the past couple of months, and I stand by that now. He's fourth in the majors in strikeouts. He's had a ridiculous .350 BABIP so far this season, indicating he's had some bad luck issues. I'm a buyer of Haren, and if the Haren owner in your league wants to use this as a reason to panic-sell, I say go for it.

Joe Saunders
Joe Saunders has pitched much better away from Anaheim this season, compiling a 3.56 ERA.
Coming in the other direction is Saunders, an underwhelming fantasy pitcher because of his lack of dominance; he has 392 strikeouts and 229 walks in 692 career big league innings. Even in '08 and '09, when he was winning 17 and 16 games, respectively, he failed to fan even five batters per nine innings. Last year, his ERA and WHIP were 4.60 and 1.43 and this year those numbers are 4.62 and 1.49. The talking heads will point to the won/loss record and call him a gamer, but you know better in fantasy. He's making the opposite switch from Haren, going to what's probably an easier league, but what's definitely a much harder ballpark. Saunders is an extreme fly-ball pitcher who's going to give up a lot of homers at Chase Field. NL-only owners can certainly add him, but I think mixed leaguers should tread lightly. Grab him only if you're really looking to get lucky and catch lightning in a bottle.

As for the prospects the Diamondbacks got in this deal, Patrick Corbin is a former second-round pick in 2009, a left-handed starter who's 21 and has never pitched above Class A. Supposedly the player to be named later is a good-not-great prospect (not Mike Trout). Rafael Rodriguez has already been to the majors and has just 11 strikeouts in 32 2/3 career big league innings. Here's what my friend and ESPN.com colleague Jason Grey had to say about these kids: "Rodriguez isn't a fantasy consideration. At best, his role will be as a middle reliever at the big league level. Corbin is developing a change, and he won't be coming to the majors quickly; he's a potential No. 3 or 4 starter down the road, but is at least a couple years away."

To me, this looks like highway robbery for the Angels, and a salary dump for the Diamondbacks. Unless the player to be named is a much better prospect than has been hinted at in published reports, it's actually hard to imagine this was the best package the Diamondbacks could've gotten. But regardless, don't let Haren's move scare you off him. I think he'll be quite valuable in the season's final two months.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy and follow him at www.twitter.com/thewriterboy.