Commentary

Haren, Webb share ability to get hitters out

Originally Published: February 21, 2008
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

TUCSON, Ariz. -- As history shows, 1-2 pitching duos have different ways to bond. In 1966, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale found a common purpose in their quest to squeeze a few extra bucks out of Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley. For years in Atlanta, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz strengthened their ties over tee shots and a cold beer at the clubhouse tavern.

[+] EnlargeDan Haren and Brandon Webb
ASSOCIATED PRESSDan Haren, left, and Brandon Webb could form the National League's best 1-2 combination.

So what shared interests will bring new Arizona teammates Brandon Webb and Dan Haren together this season? At first glance, it's tough to find a common thread.

Webb, 28, is a laid-back Kentucky Wildcat who strums a guitar in the clubhouse and has a big black bag filled with woods and irons next to his spring training locker.

Haren, 27, is a low-key Pepperdine Wave with a fondness for sitcoms. His personal favorites are "Seinfeld," "King of Queens" and "The Office," and he routinely pops DVDs into his laptop on charter flights to help him forget that he's a nervous flier. Haren also enjoys a relaxing round of golf, but with a 2-month-old baby boy at home, he's so sleep deprived these days that he might wander into the woods after a lost ball and never return.

Webb's repertoire includes a curveball and a changeup, but they're just a diversion from a sinker that's so good it merits its own trademark. The pitch never functioned more efficiently than last summer, when Webb tossed 42 consecutive scoreless innings in July and August.

Haren, in contrast, will cut it, sink it, curve it or split it. His arsenal is so diverse, it includes everything but a universal healthcare package.

"Ever since I met Danny, he's done nothing but progress," said Giants starter Noah Lowry, Haren's former Pepperdine teammate. "It's not just his physical ability. He's got it together mentally as well. He's a complete-package pitcher."

In the end, the common link between Webb and Haren is the most elementary one of all: They're no-frills guys who just happen to be very good at getting hitters out.

Among top-of-the-rotation combinations, Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez of the Mets win out on cachet. C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona combined for 38 wins with Cleveland in 2007. The Felix Hernandez-Erik Bedard tandem is potentially lethal in Seattle, and Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum might leave everyone in the dust by 2010.

Webb and Haren: Last Three Seasons
Webb Haren
W-L 48-30 43-34
ERA 3.21 3.64
Opp. BA .249 .253
Starts 100 102

But for durability, dependability and All-Star-caliber performance at a reasonable price, the Diamondbacks might have hit paydirt.

• Over the past three seasons, Webb ranks first among big league pitchers in innings with 700 1/3, and Haren is eighth with 662 2/3. Webb, Haren and Arizona lefty Doug Davis are among a group of 14 pitchers with 100 or more starts since 2005.

• Webb ranks fourth among starters in that span with 48 victories, and Haren is tied with Jake Peavy, Aaron Harang and Tim Hudson for 15th place with 43 wins.

The next time a beat reporter refers to either pitcher as a "diva," he'll be asked to submit to a urine test.

"You're not going to find two more low-maintenance stars," Arizona general manager Josh Byrnes said. "They're humble guys, and I think they like being around their teammates. They really add to the team dynamic."

Baseball fans in Phoenix are so excited by the Webb-Haren combination, people are already tossing out comparisons to the Randy Johnson-Curt Schilling tandem that went 43-12 and overcame the Yankees' mystique and aura to pitch the Diamondbacks to a world championship in 2001. It's sacrilegious, but true.

"I don't think they're there yet, but we feel pretty good about both these guys because of their success at a young age," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said.

Best of all, they'll have a chance to grow on the job. Webb is locked up for $21 million through 2010, and Haren arrived with three years and $16.5 million left on his contract when the Diamondbacks acquired him from Oakland in an eight-player trade in December.

[+] EnlargeDan Haren
Dan HarenAP Photo/M. Spencer GreenDan Haren started for the American League in the All-Star Game last season.

That's 68 starts and 460 innings annually for the next three years at a combined cost of $37.5 million -- or just a hair more than Kansas City will pay Jose Guillen to play right field during that stretch.

Are pocket aces enough for the Diamondbacks to build on their success of 2007 and win a second straight division title? That depends on how quickly some of Arizona's young hitters progress.

The Diamondbacks were outscored by 20 runs last season, but won 90 games thanks in part to a 32-20 record in one-run games. Management did nothing of note to upgrade the lineup, unless you count that spring training Trot Nixon acquisition. But Arizona's offense posted an .811 OPS in September -- making it easily the team's best offensive month -- and the Diamondbacks are betting that shortstop Stephen Drew, center fielder Chris Young and right fielder Justin Upton can pick up the pace with another year of experience behind them.

Melvin is also hoping for 20-25 starts from Johnson in his recovery from back surgery at age 44. If the Diamondbacks can coax 120 to 150 innings out of Johnson, they have enough surplus pitching to fill in the blanks.

In the Cactus League, Johnson is focused strictly on throwing while his fellow pitchers take part in the drudgery of covering first, handling bunts and knocking down comebackers -- that magical time of year known as pitchers' fielding practice, or PFP.

No wonder the Big Unit is in a good mood.

"I was never going to win a Gold Glove, anyway," Johnson said.

The party line is that Johnson is chapped that his back problems have left him 16 wins short of 300 for his career, and that he's determined to show everyone he doesn't belong in a massage chair just yet.

But as catcher Chris Snyder points out, "I've never seen the guy when he's not determined. I don't know what he does when he wakes up in the morning, but you know the guy has something on his mind and he's going to get it done."

Johnson will have to slot in behind Webb and Haren, whose transition from Oakland to Phoenix is a mixed blessing. True, Haren will be pitching against less daunting lineups in the National League, but he's also in a more hitter-friendly home park now, and he's had some problems with the long ball in his career.

If good pitching is contagious, Haren has come to the right place. He remembers sitting in the dugout with Oakland teammates Chad Gaudin and Joe Blanton during Webb's shutout streak in August 2007 and seeing Arizona leading Atlanta 4-0. His immediate reaction was, "I bet Webb is pitching."

If you want to call it feeding off each other, pushing each other or whatever, there always becomes a sort of friendly competition. If you're a competitor and a guy on your team is doing well, you want to up the ante a little bit.

--Arizona manager Bob Melvin, about Brandon Webb and Dan Haren

"We all talked about how amazing it was," Haren said. "I've never thrown a complete-game shutout in my whole career, and he had three in a row."

This is, amazingly, correct. In 121 career starts, Haren has five complete games and no shutouts.

Complete games or not, Webb and Haren should take a lot of pressure off the bullpen. Last year Webb threw 236 1/3 innings in the regular season and 13 more in the playoffs. Most nights, he took the mound knowing he had to throw seven or eight innings because the relievers were taxed.

"I felt like I threw a million [innings]," Webb said.

Webb has a new playmate now, and they'll help test the theory that good pitching, like hitting, is contagious.

"If you want to call it feeding off each other, pushing each other or whatever, there always becomes a sort of friendly competition," Melvin said. "If you're a competitor and a guy on your team is doing well, you want to up the ante a little bit."

The Diamondbacks have made it clear they like their chances. Now it's time to stop the talking and just go pitch.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer