J.A. Happ is (a lot) Better Than Most Think
by Paul Semendinger
September 20, 2020Embed from Getty Images
Sometimes as things around us fall apart and we look to find what is wrong, we overlook what is right. “This guy is hurt, that guy isn’t hitting, the manager isn’t doing this (or that…” It’s all bad, bad, bad.
While we’re doing this, we just accept the narrative on the other guys….
“Yes, of course. J.A. Happ is terrible.”
And when we do that, we’re often wrong. Simple narratives are easy, even if they’re wrong. And boy were most wrong about J.A. Happ this year.
I have always believed in Happ, and I have written many times that I believe he’ll follow a career arc like Jamie Moyer and will be a 20-game winner when he is in his forties. I have written that these years, last year, this year, and even next year, are going to be the years when he transitions to becoming the pitcher Jamie Moyer became – one who wins by smarts, guile, and by throwing a mix of pitches. I have said that he’ll win by pitching slower and slower instead of faster and faster. These are the transition years in J.A. Happ’s career.
But this year, even I, when the Yankees were crumbling apart, gave up, briefly, on Happ.
I wasn’t watching, I was just listening to the noise. We usually make mistakes and erors when we just listen to the noise.
“Happ stinks,” they all said.
“Yes, of course,” I thought.
Boy were we all wrong. For more than a month, J.A. Happ has been the top starting pitcher on the Yankees staff.
Yes, J.A. Happ.
Let’s take a look:
August 16: (vs Boston) 5.2 innings, 3 Hits, 1 run allowed
Happ earned his first victory of the year.
August 29: (vs NY Mets) 7.1 innings, 3 hits allowed, 0 runs
The Yankees won 2-1 late in the game. That win broke a seven game losing streak.
September 3: (vs NY Mets) 5.0 innings, 8 hits, 4 runs
This is the type of game we look at and ignore all the other evidence to just say, “That guy is no good.” Happ didn’t help the team in this game, but the Yankees lost in extra innings, long after Happ was in the showers.
September 8: (vs Toronto) 6.1 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs
The Yankees lost 2-1. Happ’s record fell to 1-2. His record belied the fact that he was actually one of the most reliable Yankees’ pitchers over this period.
September 13 (vs Baltimore) 5 innings, 5 hits, 1 run
The Yankees again won late. Happ’s record stayed at 1-2.
September 19 (vs Boston) 8 innings, 4 hits, no runs
Happ earned his second win of the year
Let’s look at the sum total of these last six starts:
27 hits allowed
ERA = 1.94
The common narrative is that J.A. Happ isn’t a very good pitcher. He’s the guy the Yankees need to get rid of. And yet…
When he came to the Yankees in 2018, J.A. Happ went 7-0, 2.69 down the stretch
Last season, as the rest of the team fell apart around him, Happ made 30 starts (2nd on the team), threw 161.1 innings (second on the team), and won 12 games (against 8 loses). The Yankees went 20-11 in games he started. (The Yankees actually lost the last two games he started, so, more impressively, the Yankees were 20-9 in James started by J.A. Happ in 2019 as late as September 19, 2019. Also, those last two Yankees loses in games Happ started in 2019, did not come because of Happ. In those final two games, J.A. Happ pitched 10.1 innings allowing just 3 runs.)
Heading into the 2020 season, J.A. Happ’s bWAR as a Yankee was 3.3.
J.A. Happ has not put up a negative bWAR in any season since 2011.
In 2020, Happ is slightly ahead (just barely, but ahead he is) of Masahiro Tanaka as #2 on the team in innings (44.1) and ERA (3.26).
The common narrative about J.A. Happ is wrong. It’s been wrong for a long time. The man can pitch – and pitch well.
And he does.
And he has, for the most part, since coming to the Yankees.