Given J.A. Happ’s body of work so far this season, Monday night’s outing against the Mariners was actually decent. Through five innings of work, Happ allowed three runs on two hits over five innings and struck out seven. The lone blemish was a three-run home run off the bat of Dylan Moore, the number eight hitter on a Mariners team that has been in a free fall since their inexplicable hot streak to begin the season.
So, what did that start by Happ tell us? Nothing that we already didn’t know, and that perhaps speaks louder than if there was something new to take away from his outing. Happ was the Happ Yankees fans have come to know and fear since the first month of the season, and if a turnaround hasn’t happened by the end of August, it’s likely not going to happen. Which brings us to the likely obvious conclusion that the veteran lefty can’t be trusted in the postseason, and should be kept off the Yankees’ playoff roster.
In October, when dingers are critical for success and opposing lineups are packed with bonafide home runs hitters (see the Astros, Twins and Dodgers, for starters), it’s imperative to send out pitchers that can minimize the long ball. Happ has been dreadful in that regard this season, having allowed 32 long balls in his 134 innings of work. Happ has allowed multiple home runs in a start 10 times this year, which sits atop the league leaders in that undesirable category. Not to mention, his walk rate is up slightly this year as well, creating more traffic on the basepaths before those game-changing home runs leave the yard. Having allowed 11 home runs in his last seven starts, the trend isn’t getting any better for Happ. It’s somehow getting worse, and it’s a headache the Yankees should look to avoid come October.
Again, there just isn’t enough evidence (or any evidence at all) to believe that Happ could return to even the general proximity of his production down the stretch of the 2018 season. This isn’t a James Paxton situation, where a lefty with plus stuff battled back from a lingering knee injury and changed his approach on the mound in terms of pitch selection to give the Yanks hope for the immediate future. Happ, coveted for his spin rate and deceptive fastball when he was traded for last season, has actually had a higher spin rate on his heater this season, with just about the same velocity. Yet his xSLG against the fastball is up from .449 to .518, and his secondary pitches have seen an increase as well. Everything is trending in the wrong direction, and come playoff time when the best offenses in baseball await, it would likely only get worse.
The Yankees’ rotation has been a large point of conversation all season, but almost every other option is better than Happ right now. Paxton, Domingo German, Masahiro Tanka, CC Sabathia and Luis Severino (if healthy) should all be considered better picks for the playoff rotation. We can talk about the questionable choice of signing Happ for hours, but to break it down into its simplest terms, it hasn’t worked out this year. The Yankees shouldn’t use the season’s most important games as a last gasp effort to unlock the Happ of last season.
On the other hand, we could return to the Happ signing for another opportunity to fantasize about having Patrick Corbin on this team. That sure would be nice, wouldn’t it? Okay, I’m done.