Blue Jays: Dear fanbase, J.A. Happ will be fine

May 30, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ (33) pitches to the Cincinnati Reds during the third inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
May 30, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ (33) pitches to the Cincinnati Reds during the third inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

I was inspired to write this piece following J.A. Happ’s latest start against the Oakland Athletics when many fans were making tweets, Facebook posts, and other social media posts about their displeasure with Happ. I’m here to attempt to calm down the fanbase and provide some optimism. Yes, J.A. Happ is still good and yes, J.A. Happ will be fine.

By all accounts, this hasn’t been the start of the season that many envisioned for J.A. Happ. In fairness, he hasn’t really had much time to get into the flow of the regular season. Happ started spring training late to ease him into the regular season after he threw 195.0 innings in 2016 plus 10.0 in the post-season over two starts. It was by far the heaviest workload in the career of the 20 game winner.

Happ got off to a decent start with a solid 7.0 inning outing in Baltimore in the season’s 2nd game. He followed that up with 4.2 innings in the home opener where he allowed 4 runs against the Milwaukee Brewers. In Happ’s third start, he was looking like the vintage Happ of 2016. Unfortunately for him and the Blue Jays, he left the game in the 5th with an injury (left elbow inflammation) that kept him out until May 30th.

When Happ got back, he only had 1 rehab start under his belt and it showed. Outside of 2 solo shots in the 1st inning, he delivered 4.0 solid innings. He was on a strict pitch count which kept him from going deeper, but he gave the Blue Jays what they needed in a ball game they ended up taking from the Cincinnati Reds.

Fast forward a week to Happ’s next start at the Oakland Athletics, he threw 5.1 innings and allowed 5 runs, all on home runs by the A’s Ryon Healy. What did him in during that start was some poor location, walking 3.

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What we’ve seen from J.A. Happ since he’s been back is quite uncharacteristic, which is walking guys. He’s walked 6 in his past 2 outings combined (9.1 innings). That is quite typical for a guy still finding his sea legs after being out for such an extended period of time. That will iron itself out.

For a guy who relies so heavily on his fastball, Happ needs his secondary pitches to be able to set-up his fastball and vice-versa. His secondary stuff hasn’t been there in his previous 2 outings, and that is not much of a surprise either. Once the secondary stuff comes back, which they will as he continues to build up his arm again, we will see the Happ of 2016 again.

The only disturbing trend thus far is the home run ball. Happ has allowed 8 home runs in his 5 starts this season, with 4 of them in his past two outings. He’s allowed 2.84 home runs per 9 innings, which is way above his career norm of 1.11. A season ago, it was just a tick over 1.00 at 1.02. That 2.84 HR/9 won’t last, much like his 30.8 HR/FB%. When batters are getting the ball in the air, it’s leaving the yard 30.8% of the time. For his career, that number is at 10.5%. Yet another trend that will not continue.

If you look at the stat xFIP, which adjusts the HR/FB rate to 10.5% (his total from last year), Happ’s xFIP is 3.43. That’s much more Happ-like. His SIERA (skill interactive ERA) is also very good at 3.52. It’s also interesting to see the contact rates against Happ thus far. He’s allowed 18.2% soft contact, 51.9% medium contact, and 29.9% hard contact. All of those are right around Happ’s career norms. He’s even getting around the same flyball percentage as last season at 33.8%.

Quite simply, Happ still is working his way back from his injury. If the Blue Jays had it their way and were a bit healthier in the rotation, it’s quite possible that Happ may not have even rejoined the rotation yet. They wanted to give him around 3 rehab starts before bringing him back. With the performances of Mike Bolsinger and injuries to Francisco Liriano (at the time) and Aaron Sanchez, the Blue Jays felt they’d get better production from Happ on a pitch count than any call-up for his start against the Reds.

I’d say Happ gets one more mulligan start, which will next come at the Seattle Mariners on Sunday afternoon. After that, we shall see how he looks. For now, you can rest easy knowing that the 30.8% HR/FB will not last and will even out. The home runs will slow down and as Happ builds up his arm strength again, he will return to the effective left-hander we saw in 2016.

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