2016 Blue Jays Season Review: J.A. Happ

J.A. Happ

Now that the season is over, the crew at Blue Jays from Away will take a look at the Blue Jays one by one and review how each player’s season went, whether he met expectations (or not) and look at how he fits into (what we think of) the Blue Jays’ plans going forward.

 

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The Blue Jays’ big free agent targets, on the pitching side, in the 2015/16 offseason were Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, both of whom signed early in the process with Happ coming back on board the Blue Jays flight on November 27. Fans were not particularly happy as they knew that the two signings would mean that David Price would likely not return. Price signed with the Red Sox for seven years with a $217-million contract that started at $30 million per year and posted a season of 4.5 wins above replacement (WAR) according to Fangraphs. Happ and Estrada earned a combined $21 million and posted 6.2 WAR together, with Happ winning 20 games for the Blue Jays. How’s that for a return on investment?

J.A. Happ was certainly not the pitcher for Toronto in 2016 that he was in his first stint with the Blue Jays. In the overall picture, he featured a four-seam fastball that he used more often than ever (58.6% of the time, according to PITCHf/x while mixing in a two-seam fastball, a slider, curve and change to keep hitters honest. Despite a slightly above-average home-run-to-fly-ball ratio (11.1%), Happ outperformed his FIP (3.96) and xFIP (4.18) with a 3.18 ERA and 1.17 WHIP thanks to his low BABIP (.268) and high strand rate (79.7%). The strand rate, especially, had Happ becoming a bulldog on the mound with runners on, not letting many score. Happ was equally as good against lefties as righties, allowing a .669 OPS against righties and a .651 OPS against lefties and, his ERA was actually over a half a run better at home in Toronto, likely due to allowing just more than half the home runs he gave up on the road.

Happ was fairly consistent throughout the year, although his June wasn’t much to write home about (he allowed four or more runs in three of his six starts, but still went at least five innings in all of them). July, however, was another story as Happ struck out 11 batters twice (his season high) while giving up more than one run once in five starts. While some pitchers put together a good season with large high and low swings, Happ was a model of consistency, particularly down the stretch when, in his last five starts, he allowed two runs in each, throwing anywhere from five to 7 1/3 innings.

Happ made two starts in the postseason, going five innings in each and giving up one run against Texas and two against Cleveland. He only walked two and struck out nine, earning a win and a loss.

Overall, Happ delivered far more than a $10-million starting pitcher was expected to, and more than what we might have expected out of Happ, given his track record. He set career highs in wins (20), innings (195), strikeouts (163), and a career best in WHIP (1.17). A model of consistency, Happ would be a very good third starter for any team in baseball, but on the Blue Jays, one could argue that he’s the #4 guy (and is certainly being paid like one).

 

Contract Status

 

Happ signed a three-year $36-million contract before the 2016 season, earning $10 million in 2016, with two seasons at $13 million coming up in 2017 and 2018.

 

Emily Says

 

J.A. Happ was signed as a free agent last November after his late-season success with the Pittsburgh Pirates. This year, he tied with Max Scherzer for the second-most number of wins in MLB, with 20, behind only Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. With one of his career-best ERAs, 3.18 in a carer-high 195.0 innings over 32 starts, Happ was truly a whole new pitcher compared to his last time in Toronto.

In all five of his April starts, he threw six or more innings, and allowed three or fewer earned runs. His monthly ERA was 2.76 in 32.2 innings, with 31 hits allowed (including four home runs). He had one major hiccup in May – a game wherein every baserunner he allowed scored. He allowed eight runs on seven hits and a walk (including two homers) in just two innings in a start against Tampa. The start before that, he was pulled in the 9th inning one out away from a six-hit complete game shutout against the Giants. His May ERA in 6 starts was 3.32 in 38 innings.

In five June starts he allowed eighteen runs, seventeen earned for an ERA of 5.28. He allowed six home runs and had an opponent’s average of .274, up from .213 in May. Despite his struggles, he still had a 4-1 record for the month.

The lefty bounced back in July, with two scoreless outings, just two home runs allowed, an opponent’s average of .182 and a 1.44 ERA in 31.1 innings. Happ also became the first Blue Jays pitcher since Roy Halladay to 12 wins before the All-Star Break.

In five August starts, he pitched to a 3.52 ERA over 30.2 innings. He won three of his five starts and lost one. He allowed four earned runs in each of two outings, had one three-run outing, one ER on four hits in another, and had one six-inning scoreless outing.

Happ’s September didn’t get off to a great start, with three earned runs over 2.2 innings in his first start, and he allowed two runs in each of the next four outings, but two of the total 11 runs for the month were unearned. His ERA was 3.00 in 27 innings. He then threw the all-important October 1st game in Boston, lasting 6.1 innings and allowing two runs on four hits. He took a no-decision but the Jays would win the game.

Happ had a career-high 163 strikeouts, a K/BB rate of 2.72 to go along with the sixth-best ERA in the American League. He also had the sixth-fewest hits per nine innings (7.754), and his WHIP of 1.169 was 10th-best. He finished sixth in AL Cy Young votes.

Happ started the second game of the ALDS and allowed one run on nine hits in five innings. He also had five strikeouts. He then took the loss in ALCS Game 2 after throwing another 5.0 innings and allowing two runs on four hits, including a home run, with four strikeouts. He allowed one walk in each start. His postseason ERA was 2.70 and his WHIP was 1.50.

 

Regular Season Grades

 

Jay: A
Emily: A

 

Postseason Grades

 

Jay: A
Emily: A-

 

Follow Emily on Twitter: @JaysGirlEmily

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