Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ: Who IS This Guy?

The Toronto Blue Jays took a chance on J.A. Happ this offseason. It is paying off as he is among the best pitchers in the American League.

 

 

Think back to what went through your head this past offseason. The Toronto Blue Jays let David Price walk without so much as a Thank You card. Fans were worried about how the club would contend after losing such a force in the rotation. The answer was J.A. Happ. Signed for 3 yrs and $36M, the chorus of “Rogers is Cheap” started to ring once again. Happ is making $10M in 2016 and $13M in the next two. And, the way he is going, Toronto brass is looking pretty smart.

 

Happ is sitting on an 11-3 record with a 3.54 ERA in 17 starts. Normally, a pitcher’s win total should be taken with a grain of salt, given everything that goes into a win. It relies on offense, among other things. If your offense is like the 2015 Blue Jays, your chances of winning go up. But, this year’s offense hasn’t exactly lived up to that. Or, have they? While the bats have not been as exciting overall, they have helped out their lefty. In fact, of AL pitchers, Happ is getting the most run support. He’s benefiting from 6.71 runs per start, according to ESPN. With that, Happ just needs to hold opponents to under 6 runs to win.

 

His ERA would suggest that he is doing that. In his 106.2 innings pitched (that total is good for 11th in the AL), he’s allowed 42 earned runs. That’s an average of about 2.5 per start. Let’s take a look at where he stands among AL starters:

ERA: 3.54, 14th in AL
WHIP: 1.20, 14th in AL
Wins: 11, 2nd in AL
Quality Starts: 12, T2 in AL
W%: .786, 8th in AL

Where we are right now is that J.A. Happ is on the outside of very early Cy Young talk. That conversation always includes wins in the conversation, even though it shouldn’t. So, if we’re talking about it in July, he could get some attention. His strike out totals are not as sexy, though. He has 80 thus far, which is good for 27th in the AL. But, the fact that he could even get outside attention in this conversation is more than we thought would happen considering what we remember of Happ’s first tour with the Blue Jays.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9
2012 TOR 3 2 .600 4.69 6 40.1 35 21 2 17 46 91 2.80 1.289 7.8 0.4 3.8 10.3
2013 TOR 5 7 .417 4.56 18 92.2 91 47 10 45 77 90 4.31 1.468 8.8 1.0 4.4 7.5
2014 TOR 11 11 .500 4.22 26 158.0 160 74 22 51 133 90 4.26 1.335 9.1 1.3 2.9 7.6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/4/2016.

 

Those who witnessed the 3 years of Happ in Toronto were less likely to believe in the results of his time in Pittsburgh. But, here we are in July, 2016 and we’re starting to believe more and more. But, how is he doing it?

 

Take a look at his pitch usage via Brooks Baseball. The first is info from 2012-2014, his first time with Blue Jays. The second is his 2016 usage.

Happ pitch usage 2012-2014
Happ pitch usage 2012-2014

 

Happ pitch usage- 2016
Happ pitch usage- 2016

 

A couple things stand out, here. First of all, Happ is using his sinker twice as much as he used to. According to Fangraphs.com, in 2013, his ground ball rate was as low as 36.5%. Now, it is up to a career high 43%. His fly ball rate has gone in the opposite direction, from 46% in 2013 to 35.6% this year. He’s cut down his first pitch fastball rates this year too. The other thing you’ll notice is the increased usage of his cutter, especially to right handed batters. He’s also eliminated his change to lefties this year.

 

If you look at the sinker, you see a change in movement on the pitch as well. During his first go with Toronto, he was seeing 92.26 mph with horizontal movement of 8.78″ and vertical movement of 8.53″. In 2016, it looks like this: 91.72 mph, 9.6 HMov and 5.23 VMov. He’s getting more side to side action on his sinker with less up and down. The difference is that, this season, he is seeing a greater drop in vertical movement when compared to his 4-seamer- almost 5″, whereas previously, it was more like 3″.

 

There is no questioning that J.A. Happ is a different pitcher than he was when he first wore Blue Jays blue. The results are not as frustrating to watch. He used to give up around a 1.5 WHIP from 2012 through 2014. Now, he’s sitting at 1.20. It’s not perfect, but it is a drastic improvement.

 

Fangraphs lists his WAR at 1.5, which according to their valuing, his 2016 performance to date is worth $12.2M. In half a season, he’s already earned his salary. At the time, the Toronto Blue Jays, specifically the duo of Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, were called cheap for letting one lefty walk and signing another for a fraction of the cost. But, all things considered, it just might prove to be a brilliant piece of work.

 

*If you’re visiting from MLBTR, check out other great Blue Jays coverage from the last week at Jays From the Couch!

 

 

 

*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0

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Shaun Doyle

Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.