I’ve been a fan of J.A. Happ’s for a while. Part of living in a country where the company owning 90% of MLB broadcast rights also happens to own the country’s only MLB team means I get to see Happ a lot. I’ve written before about how much he’d add to the Yankees. Today, Brian Cashman landed Happ, and it’s exactly what the team needed.
Even after a rough July, Happ is still on a career-best pace in terms of strikeouts, sitting down 10.26/9. He’s performed better than the pitchers who have occupied the fourth and fifth slots in the Yankee rotation, and perhaps most important of all, is the piece the Yankees need to execute their postseason strategy.
In trading for Zach Britton earlier this week, the Yankees made it clear they intend to succeed in the playoffs from the back to the front. This means counting on their starters to go four or five innings before turning things over to the likes of Britton, Dellin Betances, and David Robertson. The postseason allows you to use relievers in ways that you can’t normally, but there’s one catch: your bullpen is less effective if you burnt them out over the regular season.
Take David Robertson for example. He’s thrown 44.1 innings so far in 2018, and his rest-of-season projections tag him for another 25. 69.1 innings would represent a new career high for the 33-year old. Jonathan Holder is expected to double his innings from last season, and Aroldis Chapman is on pace for his highest number of innings pitched since 2015, all the while seeming to battle a number of nagging aches and pains.
All this is a direct result of the Yankees not getting the length from their starters that they need to. Their 5.5 innings per start on average is tied with Oakland at the bottom of the AL playoff contender list - Boston, Cleveland, Houston and Seattle all get more distance from their starters. Happ, meanwhile, is 5.7 innings per start, which is exactly what the Mariners are managing and a hair below Boston’s team average.
The one constant of the Yankee season has been short starts bailed out by the bullpen. Domingo German and Sonny Gray have both become in-jokes among Yankee fans for their inability to record 12 outs some nights. As much as CC Sabathia still manages to defy time and expectations, he’s only managing 5.5 innings in his starts. The only reliable source of length for the team has been Luis Severino, and that’s just not sustainable for the Yankees’ playoff strategy.
J.A. Happ is not as good as he was in the beginning of the season. He’s also not as bad as he has pitched in July. More than anything, he’s going to be able to deliver quality innings for the Yankees in the fourth or fifth rotation spot, and that’s worth its weight in gold for a team piling on way too many bullpen appearances.