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The Tuesday Discussion: Thoughts on J.A. Happ?

This week, we asked the writers the following question:

Over his last 17.1 innings, J.A, Happ has allowed only 5 hits. Has he turned the corner or is this just a fluke?

Matthew Cohen: 19 strikeouts and 8 walks in 17 and a third innings is nothing to write home about. His BABIPs (batting average on balls in play) have been .154, .083 and .111 in those three games. .300 is average. He’s been very lucky the past few games. He’s not a very good pitcher any more which is hardly a shock given that he’s 36. $17 million for this kind of performance is not great bang for the buck. Not one of Cashman’s finest moments. Thankfully, he’s gone after next year.

Paul Semendinger: I believe that J.A. Happ has the skills and the smarts to transition from a harder thrower to a finesse pitcher. I believe that J.A. Happ is the type of pitcher that can have a long career as a “crafty” lefty. By using location and off-speed pitches, his fastball can play faster. Many pitchers rediscover themselves late in their career after a down period. Two such Yankees pitchers of recent vintage in this regard have been C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. I see J.A. Happ pitching well into his 40’s and having similar success to Jamie Moyer. I also predicated that Happ’s success would come after he left the Yankees, assuming that the transition would not be quick. That said, he is looking much more confident on the mound and he is pitching well. I am not ready to give Happ a spot on the playoff roster, but I am becoming a believer. It’s not a fluke, he can be this good, but, I’m not convinced that he has fully made the transition yet. I am excited by what I hope becomes a great September for J.A. Happ.

Michael Saffer: I believe he has turned a corner based on the caliber of teams that he has seen success against recently. It would be different if he pitched well against the Marlins and Tigers. The fact that he did well against top shelf teams leads me to believe he is on the path to a consistent, strong end to the season.

Patrick Gunn: No? He has had two great starts, but he did walk four batters against Oakland before a sparkling outing in Boston. He has been able to keep the ball in the yard, but I cannot say that two good performances, which, to be fair, have come against high-octane lineups, turns Happ’s performance this year from Razzie-worthy to Oscar-contender. Ultimately, there’s not too much Happ can do down the stretch to make up for his mediocre season. However, given the lack of rotation depth, I think the Yankees have no choice but at least give Happ a short leash in a game four start. Any momentum he gains down the stretch is beneficial to their World Series cause. That being said, I will believe he has turned a corner when he takes the mound in the playoffs.

Sean Oldread: This is a fluke, Happ has proved all season he can’t be trusted due to his inconsistencies. He struggles with his control early in the game usually and only has 12 wins due to this powerful Yankees offense, with a 5.10 ERA we should be talking about if he even deserves a spot in the rotation if Luis Severino is healthy. Happ has allowed 83 earned runs this year which is the second most he has ever surrendered and most since 2011. He is on the decline of his career and the Yankees will be lucky if they get one quality postseason start out of him.

Andy Singer: I would really love to say that Happ has officially turned a corner – for sure, there are some great signs. Through the month of August, Happ had been hit really hard, and he has spent the majority of the summer tweaking his pitch mix in search of being more effective.

On the encouraging side of the coin, Happ has stuck with a consistent pitch mix over his starts in September that have achieved great results against good offensive teams in Oakland and Boston. Happ has pretty much abandoned his two-seam fastball against right-handed batters, utilizing his four-seam fastball up in the zone while working his slider and change-up down. Against left-handed batters, Happ has almost become a two-pitch pitcher, using mostly his two-seam fastball and slider to keep lefties off-balance, while mixing in his four-seam fastball just occasionally. Add it all up, and Happ has been far more effective with regards to combating hard contact both up in the strike zone and at the lowest part of the zone with the pitch mix he’s used in his latest outings.

On the flip side, the hard contact is still there as evidenced by the fact that balls in play were hit an average of 93.45 MPH (according to Statcast) in his last gem against the Red Sox. Looking at his pitch maps, Happ is still leaving a few too many pitches in the heart of the plate for my liking, and trends suggest that eventually hitters will time pitches over the heart of the plate and do damage. We also have to contend with the fact that we are dealing with a really small sample size of success, versus an entire season of struggles. That said, I like the version of Happ that has taken the hill for the Yankees in September. Happ looks confident, is pitching aggressively, and seems to have finally found a pitch mix that he is comfortable using. Happ has a history of solid, mid-rotation performance prior to this year. I’m not completely sold yet, but I think that Happ is much closer to pitching his way into a playoff rotation than he was even a month ago. I want to see the rest of his September starts first, but I would be inclined to say that Happ is one of the Yankees’ 4 best options to start a game on the mound in October in his present form.


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