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September 10, 2010

Fantasy Beat

The Recent Happenings of J.A. Happ

by Marc Normandin

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When J.A. Happ was dealt to the Houston Astros earlier this season as one of the centerpieces in the Roy Oswalt deal, it was leaked that there were those in the Astros organization who thought Happ was a Cliff Lee type pitcher. Lee has been a dominating force and one of the most productive pitchers in baseball for the past three seasons, so it seemed an odd comparison to make, given Happ's track record in terms of his peripherals--he whiffs opponents around an average rate and walks too many hitters to post a quality K/BB like Lee does. Despite this, Happ has pitched well since the deal, posting an ERA of 3.21 while winning five of his eight starts for the 'Stros.

It seems there are two camps when it comes to Happ--the one that thinks he's a high quality pitcher as evidenced by his ERAs, and the one that thinks he is a league average hurler who has been lucky in terms of ERA. He has certainly given the former some ammunition this season, with a 2.86 ERA across 63 innings, but it's that number at the back that's important to remember--it's just 63 innings, and his peripherals do not support this ERA. Happ is striking out 6.9 hitters per nine, right at the league average for starting pitchers, while giving out unintentional free passes to 4.7 per nine. His K/BB is 1.4, well below the league average of 2.2, as well as nowhere near the realm of being able to support that ERA.

With Houston, Happ has whiffed 7.4 per nine and walked 4.2 per nine, which gives him a K/BB of 1.8--it's better, but it's still below the league average. His .231 BABIP for the season has helped him immensely, and while his supporters will say he doesn't allow hitters to make good contact against him--hence his ability to out pitch his peripherals in terms of ERA--this is well beyond that territory and will regress. Happ's SIERA with Houston is 4.29, which is actually worse than the league and NL average. Happ has also posted above-average strand rates, thanks to his career line of .176/.278/.241 allowed with runners in scoring position. That's in just 199 at-bats though, so it's not a sample size we can trust just yet--it may be indicative of something in terms of Happ's ability, but it's tough to draw any kind of conclusion from it, especially when his career line with runners on in general isn't much different than his line with the bases empty.

Houston's defense has not been good this year either, coming in at #25 in Defensive Efficiency, but Happ has managed to avoid this by being a severe flyball pitcher--Carlos Lee isn't any help out there, but Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence can both field well. The fact he's induced pop ups on over 19 percent of his flyballs has also helped, but that's nearly double his career rate and we're talking about a very small 63 inning sample here.

There's a temptation to hold onto Happ because of some enticing figures in his stat sheet, but unless you have him for a low, low price or are in an NL-only league, he's not someone you want to use the slot on. Happ may be better than his peripherals suggest due to the contact he induces, but a full run or more better, as his ERA for the year and with Houston suggests, is the work of small sample smoke and mirrors more than those wielded by Happ.

Related Content:  J.A. Happ,  Peripherals

4 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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The only flaw I can see here is (and I don't know the answer) if everything you say is true, how does one explain his 2.93 ERA in 166 IP last season, and his minor league ERA of 3.52, inflated by one awful season in Ottowa in 2007?

The problem is, my brain wants to agree with everything you said, but my eyes are having difficulty being convinced.

Happ's career BABIP is .264, which is on the low side I believe, which implies that he can sustain a lower ERA than his other metrics suggest. Maybe not as low as 2010, but not as high as his 4.29 SIERA either.

I'm just saying. There's something unexplainable about this guy so far and it's pretty inconclusive either way.

Sep 10, 2010 09:53 AM
rating: 0
Marc Normandin

I have a hard time putting stock into his career BABIP when it has come in just 266 innings. That's nowhere near enough of a sample for me to put stock into it. It just seems like more because of the number of seasons he has been around to put it up.

I do admit he's worth watching in case he does, in fact, have the ability to induce weak contact, but there isn't enough there yet to say it's definitely the case.

Sep 10, 2010 10:39 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

See John Lannan.

Sep 10, 2010 13:16 PM

I was going to suggest Mark Buehrle.

Sep 10, 2010 14:02 PM
rating: 0
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Premium Article Under The Knife: A Leg... (09/10)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Weekly P... (09/10)
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Prospectus Q&A: Dave N... (09/10)

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