We are three days out from the Biggest Game of the Year™, the 2018 American League Wild Card Game. The Yankees’ 99th win on Friday night ensured the game would be played at home, and the only questions left are the starting lineup and who is on the mound for first pitch. I’ve already petitioned the Yankees to use an opener, but Aaron Boone has come out and said decisively that won’t happen.
So we’ll see a real starting pitcher Wednesday night, for a little while at least. The likely contenders appear to be Luis Severino, who boasts the highest ceiling of all Yankee starters, and J.A. Happ, whose natural turn in the rotation would come Wednesday. He has been a revelation since coming to the Yankees at the trade deadline, posting a 2.69 ERA. He also comes complete with a much thicker postseason resumé than either Severino or Masahiro Tanaka.
Happ has recorded ten appearances in the playoffs, from his time in 2008 and 2009 with the Phillies and in 2016 with the Blue Jays. The latter turn in the postseason were starts, one each in the Division and Championship series. In one start each against the Rangers and Cleveland, he posted a 2.70 ERA, a 9:1 K:BB ratio, and critically gave up just one home run in 10 innings.
His relief work in 2008 and 2009 was less than stellar, accruing a 4.82 ERA. Happ is such a different pitcher now than he was then that I’m not sure it’s worth roping in a performance from a decade ago, but it’s still on his career log.
Evaluating postseason stats is difficult to do. First of all, there’s just so few innings pitched or plate appearances taken for us to really get a sense of how a player performs. Additionally, you’re facing more of the better hitters - or pitchers - in the league. Obviously, in the 2018 playoffs, a pitcher is far more likely to face Mookie Betts than Chris Davis. So postseason performance can be skewed in a number of ways.
Still, comparing Happ’s previous playoff work with what he’s shown so far indicates that he’s probably going to set a higher floor than anyone else in the Yankee rotation. Happ’s not going to dominate a game the way that the true aces of baseball can, but he also probably won’t flame out in the first or second inning. Either way, fits nicely into the Yankee playoff strategy - hold down the opposing offense for four or five innings, turn the game over to the bullpen either tied or with a lead, and hit the showers.
What I’m most curious about Happ’s upcoming postseason work - assuming he gets it - is how his stuff plays up knowing he only has to get 12-15 outs. He’s not a guy who relies on a 98 mph heater, but his max effort can get him up to around 95-96 on occasion:
You wonder if, knowing that he doesn’t need to try and work deep into games, Happ’s velocity will creep up as he gives more and more effort into each pitch.
We’ll find out probably in the next few hours what the Yankees envision their playoff rotation to be. Maybe they want Happ Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, maybe they want him starting a hypothetical Game One of the ALDS against the Red Sox. Whatever the plan is, he fits the mold of a Yankee playoff starter perfectly, and we should all be comfortable sending him to the mound.