If you've heard rumours about J.A Happ being one of the best pitchers in major league baseball recently, no there isn't something wrong with your hearing. It's a real thing. J.A Happ has been simply incredible since joining the Toronto Blue Jays this season.
When you have a little look at it, he's actually been better for much longer than that. Last season Happ was, to put it simply, very Happ-like to start the season. In 20 starts as a Seattle Mariner he had a 4.64 ERA and was traded to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline. Since then it seems as if Happ is auditioning for the role of two-face when they inevitably decide to make Batman 20. In 11 starts to close out the season, Happ owned a 1.85 ERA with an ERA+ of 207. His strikeout to walk ratio more than doubled, going from 2.56 to 3.51 and no one could quite figure out why.
Further, few could predict if what he had done in Pittsburgh was anything more than a fluke with him destined to return to his career norms the next season. That uncertainty didn't stop the Jays from inking him to a three-year $36 million deal early in the off-season, leaving former Blue Jays star David Price to sign elsewhere.
Few could have predicted what would come next. In just over a month of play, J.A Happ is far outplaying Price (if you're looking at ERA) and has been one of the best pitchers across the majors. Happ leads the entire major leagues in quality starts with seven and has the second lowest ERA among major league starters since August 14, 2015. The only better pitcher: the near god himself Jake Arrieta.
On Tuesday, he kept that going as he was one out away from throwing a complete game shutout. In the end his line manifest 8.2 innings pitched allowing six hits with five strikeouts and three walks. If you're into the whole advanced analytics thing, Happ's efforts accounted for a little over 50 per cent of the Jays win as he recorded a .544 WPA in the game.
There's no question that Happ has been incredible this season, but the question still lingers in the back of the minds of Blue Jays fans everywhere. Is this J.A Happ for real? The answer, at least quickly, is no. He's quite simply not a 2.00 ERA pitcher. His strikeout to walk ratio has returned to his relative career norm of 2.31 and his BABIP sits at .277. In terms of the projection statistics like FIP, it projects his ERA to increase into the the 3.00-4.00 range which is exactly where it should be. If you want to look a little further, Happ has also lost a tick on his fastball from last season with his movement (both vertical and horizontal) and spin rate declining from his Pittsburgh days.
What this all translates to is the idea that J.A Happ simply isn't this good. Now, I'm not trying to suggest that he's three runs worse per game than he's playing right now. That's not who he is and I do firmly believe that his raised arm-slot has continued to have an effect on his success. But there's a reason teams weren't lining up to give J.A Happ a David Price like contract.
He's just not one of the best pitchers in the league. With that said, as a Jays fan, it's a lot of fun when he pitches like one. It's a great surprise when you're able to follow a pitcher with this success for as long as he's sustained it this far. No doubt there will be a rough stretch at some point this season where Happ struggles, it happens to everyone.
When that happens, take a second and remember just how good he was to start the season. I know I will.