MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Haren accustomed to flying under the radar

Haren accustomed to flying under the radar

TEMPE, Ariz. -- When MLB Network was doing its 10 best of everything series, tossing reams of statistical data into computers, the Angels' Dan Haren ranked eighth in the game among starting pitchers.

This had to surprise fans -- and fantasy aficionados -- who couldn't have imagined Haren being superior to 22 No. 1 starters in the Major Leagues. A case can be made that he's the most underrated starter in the game.

"He's been the most consistent starter in the big leagues for seven years now," said teammate Jered Weaver, among the seven rated higher than Haren in the survey. "He doesn't need the hype or attention. He just wants to go out, throw 230 innings, have his 34 starts, keep the team in games."

Those seven starters ahead of him are household names. Haren is popular in his own household with his wife, Jessica, and their two children. That's enough for him.

"It used to bother me a little bit, not getting any respect," Haren said. "Early in my career, I wanted that recognition and wondered why I didn't get it. At this point in my career, I'm in a really good place and organization. I couldn't be happier being on a team like this."

Haren is convinced he finally is part of a team that can win it all with the additions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.

"With the offense looking like it's going to be better, we should be in good shape," Haren said. "With our rotation, you're talking about a No. 4 starter who could win the Cy Young."

Timing is everything for a player, especially a pitcher dependent on teammates for glossy won-loss records. Haren has won 16 twice, 15 once, 14 three times. Those numbers could be -- should be -- higher.

"I haven't really played on the greatest of teams," he said. "Last time I was in the playoffs was 2006 [with the A's] -- a long time ago. That was my second year starting."

Haren debuted in St. Louis in 2003, and appeared in a World Series with the Cardinals the following year, losing to the amazin' Red Sox.

Pressure didn't faze him. In postseason competition, the native Southern Californian is 2-0 with a 3.26 ERA in seven appearances, two as a starter, with 16 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings.

"I left St.Louis in '04 [for Oakland] and the Cardinals have won twice [in the World Series] since," Haren said.

Oakland had averaged 100 wins the previous three seasons when Haren arrived in 2005. The A's remained competitive for two seasons before slipping to 76 wins in '07, unloading Haren after the season.

"I owe Oakland for giving me an opportunity," Haren said. "I was 1-7 as a starter in 2005, and I remember [general manager] Billy Beane telling me, 'Don't worry about it. You're in the rotation.'"

Haren was 13-5 the rest of the way. An underappreciated star was born.

The D-backs thought enough of Haren to send six prospects to Oakland, including Carlos Gonzalez and Brett Anderson.

The D-backs did not take flight, through no fault of Haren, and at midseason 2010 he was dispatched to the Angels -- by interim GM Jerry Dipoto, now running the Angels. Arizona collected Joe Saunders and three young prospects, notably Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin.

The Angels won five of six American League West titles through 2009, but now find themselves pursuing Texas for the third year in a row.

The D-backs, meanwhile, rose from the depths to win the National League West last season -- in Haren's absence.

An ace on two-thirds of teams, Haren is either the No. 2 starter or 1A, behind Weaver, in manager Mike Scioscia's stable. Scioscia will tell you he has four No. 1s, adding Ervin Santana and Wilson to the mix.

Haren made All-Star teams in three consecutive seasons, starting the 2007 show in San Francisco for the AL. He was All-Star worthy in 2011, going 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.82 led the league and no doubt factored into his rating by MLB Network.

Haren seemed a little surprised to learn he'd placed so highly in such extraordinary company. Asked if he had an explanation for why he continues to fly under the national radar, Haren thought it over and smiled.

"Why is that?" he said.

He has ideas.

"I don't have a signature year where they say, 'That's it for him,'" Haren said. "I haven't had a year where I won 20 games, won an ERA title or a strikeout title. I don't throw 99 [mph]. I guess I'm not sexy enough.

"Consistency, that's my strength, what I take most pride in. Durability. Pitching through aches and pains and being able to perform at the highest level when I'm 80 to 90 percent. Baseball is a grind. The only thing that could set me apart from anybody is durability. That's what I'm known for now."

Haren's 237 starts since 2005 lead the Majors. He has not missed a start -- one last year was pushed back a few days because of throbbing back pain -- in seven seasons as a starter. He has thrown at least 217 innings each year with a high of 238 1/3 in 2011.

He's 107-84 with a 3.59 ERA in his career, getting better -- 21-14, 3.09 in 49 Angels appearances -- with diminished velocity and pinpoint command of a wide repertoire.

"Everybody nowadays is into who throws the hardest," said Weaver, who also uses a deep bag of pitches and deception to rack up zeros. "Everyone can throw hard when they're young. Eventually, you have to learn the art of pitching."

The Angels are fortunate to own a pair of masters.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.