2013 Toronto Blue Jays Reviews: J.A. Happ
Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ (48) in the dugout against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Name: J.A. Happ
Position: Starting Pitcher
*162 Game Avg. is his career average based on a full 162-game season.
Going into the 2013 baseball season J.A. Happ was expected to be on the outside looking in at the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation. R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Ricky Romero were all slotted in ahead of the lanky lefty but after Romero faltered in Spring Training, Happ stepped up to earn the fifth and final starting spot. Dan Szymborski‘s ZiPS projection wasn’t very kind to Happ and forecasted a 5.16 ERA and 4.84 FIP. Bill James was more positive and predicted him to put up a 4.30 ERA and 4.25 FIP.
Happ started the season very strong and was probably the Blue Jays best pitcher in April. He posted a 3.86 ERA and 4.01 FIP the first month but his success was partially aided by a relatively low .259 BABIP. As most fans of the Toronto Blue Jays already know far too well he had his season derailed in May when a line drive struck him in the head. Thankfully he was okay and showed some big-time toughness when he returned to the Blue Jays bench less than 24 hours later. His head recovered quickly but he also injured his right knee falling on the play, which led to him missing the next three months of the season. He didn’t appear to be nearly as sharp when he returned and struggled at times to put batters away. He pitched into the seventh inning only three of his final 11 starts and finished the year with a 4.56 ERA and 4.31 FIP. He did stay away from the home run ball for the most part and allowed only 0.97 HR/9 and 9.8% HR/FB. Happ still relies on his fastball fairly often (65.8%) but has increased the use of his change-up (up from 10.3% to 15.7%) while throwing less curveballs (down 11.3% to 7.6%). The changes haven’t paid dividends however as his strikeout rate is down while his walk rate is up compared to his 2012 numbers with both the Blue Jays and Houston Astros. His swinging strike rate was 12.2% in 40.1 innings last year with Toronto but fell to 8.2% this year. The league average for all pitchers is 9.3%. Happ was able to finish the season strong and allowed only one earned run in 7+ innings two of his last three starts.
Happ will most likely be battling once again for a spot in the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation. It looks to be shaping into quite a competition at the back-end as he will be contending with Tommy John alumni Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison, young guns Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman and 2013 starters Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond. Happ will be in the final season of his two-year deal and is scheduled to earn $5.2 million. He has a team option (with no buy-out) for $6.7 million in 2016. I have a feeling Happ is on shaky ground and in my opinion (from the outside looking in) it doesn’t appear that the organization has fully bought into him. Alex Anthopoulos has stated that Drabek, Hutchison, Nolin and Stroman will all get a shot in Spring Training and there’s always the slight (okay, very slight) chance that Romero finds some of his old form and at least challenges for a rotation spot. Happ is paid to be starter so he’ll get a chance and as always you can never have enough starting pitching but I’m far from convinced Happ is a lock for the rotation in 2014. He’s probably good enough to be a team’s fifth starter but if others step up he could be used in long relief situations out of the bullpen. His options are a little bit tricky to figure out (explanation via Bluebird Banter) but I believe he has now accrued enough MLB experience to decline optional assignment and elect free agency even if he does have one option left, which basically means sending Happ to Triple-A may no longer be on the table unless they want to risk losing him for nothing.
All stats are courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com.