Blue Jays: A healthy Happ is huge in 2018

The Blue Jays have received some very strong pitching from J.A. Happ, especially lately as he’s been especially dominant in his last five starts.

The Blue Jays had an incredible performance from their starting rotation in 2016, so it’s hard to see the upside of what’s happened in Toronto this season. Without reliving the negatives again, we’ve seen another big step forward from Marcus Stroman, the emergence of bullpen arms like Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, and Dominic Leone, and watched Marco Estrada rediscover his form, after it looked like he had forgotten how to pitch for awhile.

When listing the negatives and disappointments from this year, some fans might include J.A. Happ, which would be both short-sited and wrong. Happ has been anything but disappointing, but his season feels underwhelming in the midst of everything else that’s happened.

Let’s take a look at the facts. The left-hander was 20-4 last season with a 3.18 ERA in 32 starts at 195 innings. He was good enough to finish 6th in the Cy Young Award voting, and posted career highs across the board. While it was amazing and Happ has entered a different level later in his career, it’s probably not a fair bar to set for him at this stage.

The biggest difference for him in 2017 was his health, as he missed a month and a half from April 16th to May 30th, and I would argue he was rushed back a little too hastily, resulting in a couple of his worst outings of the season. All in all he’s made 24 starts this year, and after taking the loss on Tuesday (despite a quality start where he gave up just one run in 6.2 innings), he’s now 9-11 with a 3.64 ERA in 138.1 innings pitched. Without the injury and subsequent missed time, we’re likely looking at a guy with pretty similar numbers to last year (obviously excluding win-loss numbers, which Thursday’s game proves that pitchers don’t have much control of).

Looking a little deeper, he’s not quite matching his performance in 2016, but he’s not that far off. His WHIP is up from 1.169 to 1.352, and his ERA+ is down to 123 from 134. But if we’re being honest with our expectations, did we expect the former 3rd round pick to be a Cy Young contender when he was signed in 2015? For a 12 million dollar average salary, he’s more than earning his keep if he performs as he did in 2017, let alone what he provided last year.

https://twitter.com/BlueJays/status/911034449835511809

Happ will be 35 on opening day next season, and will enter the final season of his three year, 36 million dollar deal he signed in the 2015 offseason. He’s been a tremendous bargain in this expensive era of pitching, even with the missed time this year. He entered his start on Thursday night with 2.9 WAR earned, and will likely get pushed at or above 3.0 with his performance against the Royals.

The way the Blue Jays’ 2018 season gets started could be key for his future as a Blue Jay. If the team is in the race, Happ will no doubt he a big reason why. However, if they end up floundering out of the gate as they did this season, the talented left-hander could end up being a significant trade piece for Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins. There were some rumblings of interest at the trade deadline this year, but the Blue Jays ultimately elected to hang on to the former third round pick, and their chances in 2018 are much better for it.

Either way though, his health and performance will be a significant factor for the Blue Jays next year, and hopefully it’ll be surrounded by better seasons from his rotation mates as well. If the Blue Jays can re-tool and contend in 2018, Happ could be the type of guy the Jays want to keep around, like they just did with Marco Estrada. He’s been great since returning to Toronto, whether we all give him the credit he deserves or not.