J.A. Happ has been quietly excellent over the last two plus seasons as a Blue Jay, and was outstanding against the Red Sox on Tuesday evening.
For all the talk about Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez‘s potential at the top of the Blue Jays rotation, J.A. Happ has been pretty darn good in his own right. He entered his start against the Red Sox with a 4.50 ERA in four starts, but that didn’t tell the whole tale on how he’s pitched thus far in 2018, at least not as far as I’m concerned.
He’s looked strong on the mound to start the year, and he was in top form against the Red Sox on Tuesday night, going seven strong and striking out 10 batters. Even more impressive was that he allowed just four hits and didn’t give up a walk in the start against one of the hottest teams in baseball right now.
It’s early in the year, but the start was an important one for both the Blue Jays and for Happ. The Red Sox are one of the few teams that have started better than Toronto, entering the game at 17-4 before dropping Tuesday’s series opener. As good as the Blue Jays have been and look like they could be this year, they’re going to have competition in the AL East, and the Red Sox are proving that in spades in the opening month. The start was also big for Happ, as he shined against a premium opponent, and lowered his early numbers on the season. He’ll also be a free agent at season’s end, so these little things matter, unfortunately.
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Happ also reminded us just how good he can be, and has been since he signed his three year, 36 million dollar contract before the 2016 season. Of course, it was his second go around with the Blue Jays, and he’s been a completely different pitcher since coming back. Maybe it was Ray Searage and the magic that happened in Pittsburgh, or maybe Happ has discovered a few things on his own. Whatever it is, he’s been a top of the rotation arm for a few years now, and was more than deserving of an Opening Day start this year.
After Tuesday night’s performance, Happ has now posted a 3.36 ERA across 62 starts since the beginning of the 2016 season. That might sound surprising, but it shouldn’t be when you break down what he’s done since returning North of the border. He was 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 2016, finishing 6th in Cy Young voting that year, and throwing 195 innings across 32 starts. He followed that up last year with by going 10-11 with a 3.53 ERA in an injury shortened season, making just 25 starts and throwing 145.1 frames.
At 35 years old, he’s showing no signs of slowing down at this stage of the game, and the Blue Jays should count themselves fortunate with the value they’ve gotten back on his contract. I actually wrote an article not that long ago arguing that the Blue Jays should look at a possible extension for the veteran southpaw as well, and his latest performance only reinforces that argument further.
He entered Tuesday’s game having earned 8.2 bWAR, and the quality start against the Red Sox will only serve to add to that total. He posted WHIPs of 1.169 in 2016, 1.314 last year, and after Tuesday’s game it now sits at 0.97, a reflection of how much better he’s been than his ERA would even indicate. It should have been his fourth win of the young season, and while that stat has become largely dismissed across baseball, being 4-1 on April 24th would have looked pretty good.
The further you dig into Happ’s numbers, the more I’m convinced that he’s been one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball over the last few years, and the Blue Jays have themselves a bargain at just 13 million this year.