by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
For the third straight season J.A. Happ posted an ERA of 3.61 or better, giving him the impression of a pitcher who is going to hold appeal. Is that really the case? Is he someone that you want to go into the year depending on? In order to answer that, let’s first look at the numbers:
142 Strikeouts (8.79 K/9)
46 Walks (2.85 BB/9)
46.9% Groundball Rate
Solid control, something that’s been consistent for four years running (BB/9 under 3.00), coupled with an improvement in his strikeout and groundball rates? It seems like an ideal skill set, on the surface, but when you start digging in that’s simply not the case.
Happ owns a career 7.74 K/9, so what happened to justify the improvement? His 9.4% SwStr% doesn’t, and he also doesn’t appear to own a clear put away pitch (Whiff%):
- Curveball – 15.27%
- Fourseam Fastball – 12.76%
- Changeup – 11.36%
- Slider – 8.77%
- Sinker – 6.93%
While he was consistent with the elevated mark (8.85 K/9 in the first half, 8.75 in the second), it’s still hard to buy into it moving forward.
It didn’t appear that there was a dramatic change in approach, so why the improved groundball rate (40.1% for his career)? A few big months helped to skew things, and he showed a distinct HR/FB split as the season progressed:
- First Half – 1.77
- Second Half – 0.64
He’s not as bad as the first half mark, but when you couple fewer groundballs with pitching in the AL East it’s easy to imagine it being closer to the truth.
Fewer strikeouts + Fewer groundballs (meaning more home runs)… That’s not a formula any pitcher wants to follow. The control is solid, though it’s not an elite walk rate and consistent matchups with the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles is going to be difficult to manage. Interestingly he thrived against those three teams a year ago:
- Yankees (11.2 IP) – 1.61 ERA
- Red Sox (23.2 IP) – 1.94 ERA
- Orioles (17.2 IP) – 3.14 ERA
A regression against those three teams, when coupled with the other numbers, will likely mean disaster. It’s going to be easy to just look at last year’s numbers and assume that he’s going to be a pitcher worth targeting. That’s not the case, as the risk far outweighs the reward and you should be able to get a pitcher with more upside at a similar draft day cost.
Sources – Fangraphs, CBS Sports, Brooks Baseball
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Projections: