Oh Danny Boy

There are a few terms in baseball that have become overused and have lost their meanings. One such term is “ace”. There is probably not a day that goes by that some announcer or baseball writer has not used “ace” in describing a member of a given team’s pitching staff. Ace used to mean a number one starter who was so dominating that he literally overpowered the game. This definition has become diluted over time and now describes the number one pitcher in a team’s pitching rotation. While some of these number 1 starters could be defined as an “ace” that is a very small percentage of the 30 number 1 starters. Then there is the case of the pitcher who may not be the team’s number one starter but still be such pitching force that he should be included in any discussion of aces. This second example is of course very rare as there are few teams out there with the luxury of having two pitchers of such high caliber as to be classified as an ace. It just so happens that the Arizona Diamondbacks are one such team that has that luxury.

After the 2007 season the Arizona Diamondbacks determined that they lacked the pitching depth to take them deep into the play-offs. They embarked that off season on a quest to add another front of the rotation starter. These are not the type of players that come cheaply. Pitching, especially good pitching, is a very limited quantity in the major leagues so when one of these top starters become available either via free agency or by trade, the price can be extremely expensive. The Diamondbacks learned this first hand when they began approaching teams to gauge what the price may be to trade for pitching. Most teams discounted the sincerity of the Diamondbacks inquiries but the Oakland Athletics took the question seriously when Arizona asked about Dan Haren. The A’s asking price was a package of young prospects the likes of whom had rarely been put together in a single deal. While the Diamondbacks did not have a lot to spend monetarily they did have a fully stocked minor league system from which to pull from. Oakland named their price and the Diamondbacks accepted sending 6 young players to the Athletics in exchange for what they hoped would be a solid pitcher.

Coming to the Diamondbacks Haren understood that they already had a number one pitcher in Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb. Dan would be asked to be slotted behind Webb in the rotation and eat up innings while getting people out. For most of the 2008 season he did just that. Haren and Webb became a formidable duo the likes which had not been seen since the days of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. Given the success of Schilling and Johnson there were clearly high expectations on Webb and Haren. Unfortunately the team did not live up to advertisement and the Diamondbacks found themselves on the outside looking in as the post season began. It was a bitter pill for Webb and Haren to swallow and both vowed to come back stronger than ever and return to the playoffs.

As 2009 started Webb was still listed as the staff ace but Haren was referred to as “co-ace”. Clearly the team’s expectations for Dan Haren had increased in the off-season and the duo of Webb and Haren were seen as interchangeable with either capable of being the number 1 starter capable of dominating a game. Haren’s role was further changed when Webb was injured on Opening Day making Dan the number one starter of the staff.

The season did not start off well for Haren. Through no fault of his own, he began the season with a 0-3 record despite having an earned run average of less than 2. This was due to the fact that the Diamondbacks offense was non-existent during these three games. It was not until his fourth outing that Haren received any kind of run support. Spotting Dan 2 runs he made them hold up enroute to a 2-0 win. His next start against the potent Chicago Cubs saw another surge in offense helped in part by Haren himself who drove in 2 runs. A masterful pitching display gave Dan his second win of the season, a complete game, and lowered his ERA to a miniscule 1.54. In his latest start Haren took the mound against the Milwaukee Brewers, another club that is very good offensively. Dan Haren threw 8 strong innings allowing 1 run on 4 hits and struck out 11 one short of his career high. His ERA dropped to 1.47 proving how dominating he has been this year. He left the game with a 4-1 lead and when Chad Qualls finished off the game Haren had his third win of the year. Dan could easily be (and should be) undefeated if it were not for the pathetic run support he has received for most of his starts this year.

Clearly Dan Haren is the Diamondbacks ace regardless of whether he is the number 1 pitcher on the staff he is dominating the competition. He has set the tone and given the Diamondbacks confidence that each time he takes the mound they have a great chance to win. This is what you expect from your ace and he has been well worth the 6 prospects that Arizona gave up to get him.

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