J.A. Happ officially joined the Yankees, his sixth career organization. Having been traded for the fifth time, his ability to adapt on the move might be the most noteworthy thing about him. He did pitch 31 innings for the world champion 2008 Phillies, but don’t put too much stock into things that happened 10 years ago.
Brian Cashman didn’t trade Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney for the 1,467 innings Happ has already thrown in his big league career. He’s trading for the 2018 version of Happ and the approximately 75 innings he has to throw over the remainder of this season.
To this point, Happ has a 4.18 ERA, which doesn’t seem that great at first glance. When compared to whom he will be replacing — a trio of Domingo German, Luis Cessa, and Jonathan Loaisiga — and their cumulative 5.18 ERA, it doesn’t look so bad. While his 3.84 FIP implies there is some room for Happ to improve, it’s not a lot.
Happ is mostly a four pitch pitcher, he throws a fourseam fastball 55.4% of the time, a sinker (18.9%), a changeup (11.9%), and a slider (11.3%). He does have a curveball that he throws on occasion, but very rarely (2.5%).
The 35-year-old increased his fourseam usage in 2018 as he moved away from his less effective sinker. The results of this change in approach are noticeable. His strikeout rate has risen nearly 5% up to 27.4% which ranks ninth among AL starters, without raising his BB% which is exactly the same as it was last season (7.4%).
As a southpaw, it stands to reason that he is tough on left-handed batters. Turns out he is, allowing a measly .521 OPS against lefties this season. He’s no slouch against righties though, allowing a .715 OPS against them, which is about five percent below league average for a hitter — think Jordy Mercer.
The key to this trade was the price, which I believe was very fair. The Yankees gave up 3B Brandon Drury who was acquired as an insurance policy for Miguel Andujar. The rookie has done nothing but hit at the major league level, though. They also gave up Billy McKinney who is a fine outfield prospect in his own right, but was blocked by an already stacked major league outfield plus Clint Frazier.
The effects of this deal ripple out beyond the three players involved. Josh already wrote about how Happ effects the Yankees bullpen. This move also gives Aaron Boone an alternative to Sonny Gray as a potential fourth starter in the postseason. Plus, it means we’re less likely to see the likes of Chance Adams or Justus Sheffield make a spot start during a stretch run. Since Happ’s contract is up at the end of the season, his acquisition won’t preclude either of those two from competing for a rotation spot come spring training next year, or stunt their development in any other way.
Happ might not be as shiny and exciting as some other starting pitchers, but he came a reasonable price while still being a noticeable upgrade. That is exactly what the Yankees needed.