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The Season That Was: J.A. Happ

Taking a look at Happ’s 2017 season

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

In 2016, J.A. Happ had the best season of his career, at age 33.

He set career highs in wins (getting 20 wins, when his previous career high was 12), starts (32), innings (195), bWAR (4.5) and several other things.

In an 11 year career, it was the first time he pitched more than 172 innings. He was helped out by offensive support that wasn’t offered our other starters, but he did have a good season.

Happ’s career took a turn for the better when he was traded to the Pirates in 2015. Before that, he had been your basic back of the order starter, or often, swingman. After 11 very good starts, with Pittsburgh, he became a pitcher who could get a 3-year, $36 million contract, from a fairly conservative Blue Jays front office.

We weren’t sure that the contract was a good idea, but the first season went well and we were curious about how the second would go.

Year   Age  W  L  ERA  G GS    IP   H ER HR BB  SO HBP ERA+  FIP SO9
2017    34 10 11 3.53 25 25 145.1 145 57 18 46 142   0  130 3.76 8.8

He didn’t have quite the same season as 2016. And he missed a few games with inflammation of his elbow joint.

Baseball Reference has him at a 3.6 WAR, down from 4.5 last year. FanGraphs is less generous, 2.9 WAR, making him worth $23 million to the Blue Jays.

Happ had a .302 BABIP, up from the .268 in 2016.

His FIP was 3.76 and xFIP was 3.94. 76.6% of his baserunners were left on base.

Happ’s line drive rate was down from last year (19.4%, down from 22.0). Ground ball rate up (46.9%, up fro 42.5). Fly ball rate down (33.7%, from 35.5). A few more of his fly balls left the park (12.3%, up from 11.1).

His strikeout rate was up (22.7%, from 20.5). Walk rate down a tic (7.4 from 7.5).

And, as you like know, he wasn’t going as deep into games, averaging 5.8 innings per start, after pitching 6.1 innings per start in 2016.

As you would expect, he was better vs. lefty hitters (.198/.229/.324) than right-handed hitters (.265/.323/.412).

He had kind of confusing home/road splits. At home (4-7, 3.36 ERA, .266/.328/.413). On the road (6-4, 3.70, .239/.282/.377). So he had a lower ERA at home, even though batters hit him better at home. But, with the lower ERA, his won/loss record was worse at home.

Happ’s first half (3-6, 3.54, batters hit .252/.291/.455) and second half were pretty even (7-5, 3.52, .252/.316/.350), other than home runs, he allowed 12 home runs in the first half, just 6 in the second.

Happ by month:

  • April: 0-3, 4.50 ERA, .261/.261/407 in 3 starts. (no walks).
  • May: 0-0, 4.50 ERA, .200/.333/.600 in 1 start.
  • June: 2-2, 3.19 ERA, .248/.281/.364 in 5 starts.
  • July: 1-3, 5.00 ERA, .268/.349/.482 in 5 starts.
  • August: 3-2, 3.53 ERA, .257/.327/.346 in 6 starts.
  • September: 4-1, 1.99 ERA, .238/.282/.311 in 5 starts.

The Jays were 11-14 in his starts. His longest win streak was 3, which he did twice. His longest losing streak was 4 games, at the start of the season.

His best game, by GameScore was a 74, his last start of the season. He went 7 inning, allowed 4 hits, 1 earned, no walks with 9 strikeouts, against the Red Sox.

His worst start was a 26, back on July 23, in Cleveland. He pitched 6 innings, allowed 9 hits, 7 earned, with 3 walks, 3 strikeouts and 1 home run.

Happ has had 3 good seasons in a row. In an 11 year career, J.A. has career bWAR of 17.5, the last 3 seasons contributed 11.1 of that. He turns 35 next week, but it doesn’t seem like he’s the type that should see his numbers fall off suddenly.

I wonder how many pitchers became much better pitchers after the age of 30? We have 2, Happ and Estrada. I’d imagine there are a number of others. Jamie Moyer seemed to figure things out around age 33. R.A. Dickey around 35. I’m sure a few dozen others who I can’t think of at the moment.

I would think that players figure things out in the 30s tend to age well.

Happ allowed 2 runs or fewer in 18 of his 25 starts and 3 or fewer in 20 of 25. If the team had scored for him the way they did in 2016, he would have had more than 10 wins.

He’s coming into the last year of his contract with the Blue Jays. He’s getting to the age where he needs to prove himself each year to get another contract. I wonder if he’ll sign with the Jays again.

He’s at 92 career wins. What do you think would be the over/under for his final career total. 115? At age 30 he had 35 win, so getting to 115 would be quite the feat.

Back when we signed J.A. to his current 3-year contract, we weren’t exactly thrilled. This was the poll we did:

I think it’s fair to say that he’s done much better than we expected.