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The Season That Was: J.A. Happ

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

J.A. Happ has had an interesting couple of years.

After a fairly average 2014 season, the Jays traded Happ to the Mariners for Michael Saunders. Happ was less than terrific for Seattle, and they traded him, mid-season, to the Pirates. In Pittsburgh, something clicked. In 11 starts, he had a 1.85 ERA.

After the season, the Jays signed Happ as a free agent, 3 years for $36 million. We weren't sure if it was a good move. I said:

As a general rule, I'm against giving someone a 3-year contract, at age 33, when he's just had his first really good season (first season with a WAR over 2). He set career highs for starts (31) and innings (172). Paying $12 million a year for someone's age 33, 34 and 35 seasons, I'd want him to be someone that had a pretty decent track record.

We had a poll: 2% loved it, 25% liked it, 34% neutral, 24% disliked it and 13% hated it. It was tough, if you believed Happ was the pitcher the Pirates had, it was a bargain. If you believed he was the pitcher the Mariners had it was a bad deal.

First year of the deal, he was pretty good:

Year   Age  W L  ERA  G GS    IP   H ER HR BB  SO HBP ERA+  FIP  WHIP  H9 SO9
2016    33 20 4 3.18 32 32 195.0 168 69 22 60 163   6  134 3.96 1.169 7.8 7.5

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I would never have guessed that Happ would be a 20 game winner.

Baseball Reference has Happ at a 4.4 WAR. Fangraphs is a little less thrilled,having him at a 3.2 WAR, giving him a value of $25.5 million to the Jays, so it looks like the Jays will get value for his contract.

Batters had a BABIP of .268 against J.A, better than last year's .312. His FIP (3.96) and xFIP (4.18) were both higher than his ERA. He had a few more runner's stranded than last year, LOB% 79.7% this year, 75.4 last.

His line drive rate was a little lower this year (22.0%, down from 24.3), fly ball rate slightly higher (42.5% up from 41.6) and ground ball rate slightly up (35.5% up from 34.1). More of his fly balls left the park this year, likely the change from Seattle to Toronto (11.1%, up from 9.2).

Happ's strikeout rate was much the same as last year (20.5% down from 21.1) and walk rate was higher (7.5%, up from 6.3).

There was virtually no difference in his left/right splits (lefties hit .245/.304/.347, right-handers .228/.292/.377).

Happ was slightly better at home (11-2, 2.90 ERA, batters hit .239/.299/.352) than on the road (9-2, 3.43 ERA, batters hit .225/.291/.386).

And he was better in the second half (8-1, 2.94, batters hit .214/.286/.329) than the first half (12-3, 3.36, batters hit .244/.301/.400).

Happ by month:

April: 3-0, 2.76, .258/.326/.417

May: 3-2, 3.21, .213/.280/.324

June: 4-1, 5.28, .274/.325/.521

July: 4-0, 1.44, .182/.250/.264

August: 3-1, 3.52, .235/.279/.400

September: 3-0, 2.97, .227/.306/.305

If you could bottle July and have him do that all season.....

Happ pitched in 2 playoff games, went 5 innings in each. He won the one against the Rangers, allowing 9 hits and a walk, but just 1 earned run. He lost the one against the Clevelanders, allowing 4 hits, 1 walk and 2 earned.

The Jays went 24 and 8 in his starts. His longest win streak was 11 games, starting on June 11, running to August 17. He had a 2 game losing 'streak' in mid-May.

His best game, by Game Score, was a 75 on July 30, a win at home against the Orioles. He went 7 innings, allowed 3 hits, 3 walks, 1 earned with 11 strikeouts. He also had a couple of 74 Game Score games.

His worst game was an 11 Game Score. He lost to the Rays, on May 16. Pitching just 2 innings, he allowed 7 hits, 1 walks, 8 earned, 2 home runs, 2 strikeouts.

I'll admit, I wasn't a fan of J.A. during his first stint with the team. He seemed to always be nibbling at the plate. Every at bat seemed to go to a full count. If he got ahead 0-2, I knew that I didn't have to pay attention for a while, because he would work the count to full. Pitching past 5 innings was very rare.

This year....23 of his 32 starts were 6 innings or more. Only twice did he fail to go 5 innings. He didn't feel the same need to get to a full count on every batter.

In our 40 year history, only 6 pitchers have won 20 games in a season (Halladay and Clemens each did it twice, David Wells, Jack Morris and Pat Hentgen were the others). Happ isn't someone I would have expected to be on that list. When I think of 20 game winners, I think of guys that pitch deep into games. Guys who don't end up losing out on a win because the bullpen blew a game. Of course, it helps when your team scores 6.33 runs a game for you.

The nice part is that J.A. gave us a chance at a win almost every time out there. He wasn't going to pitch 7 innings of no-hit ball, but, most starts, would limit the damage. He only had 6 starts, all season, where he allowed more than 3 earned runs and only 3 games were he allowed more than 4 earned runs.

This year, we were blessed with great starting pitching. At various times I felt like Happ was our Ace, but then I had moments where I thought Estrada, Sanchez or Stroman was our Ace. Quality starts is a strange little stat, but Happ had 21 Quality Starts in 32 total starts.

I am sure I under valued Happ all year long. I don't expect a 33 year old, with a 10-year career behind him, to have the best season of his career. Happ set new career highs in wins, starts, innings and bWAR (but not fWAR) this year. I'm not expecting him to better those numbers next year.

I'm not sure what to expect of Happ next year. I wouldn't expect the same, but I'm far more hopeful of a good season than I was before the start of this year.