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Yankees 2020 Roster Report Cards: J.A. Happ

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The 38-year-old lefty improved as the season went on, but struggled in his only playoff game.

Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

We can sum up J.A. Happ’s season by saying that it had a nightmarish start and a terrible end. However, in between, the Yankees enjoyed a competent pitcher that was particularly successful in his last four starts of the regular season.

Grade: B-

2020 Statistics: nine games, 49.1 IP, 3.47 ERA, 4.57 FIP, 4.34 xFIP, 7.66 K/9, 2.74 BB/9, 0.6 fWAR

2021 Contract Status: Free agent

The condensed 2020 season started badly for Happ. He allowed eight runs in a span of seven frames, with eight (!) walks and just three strikeous. In his second start, in which he handed six free passes in three innings against the Philadelphia Phillies, he explained that he was having some issues with his command (well, of course he was) specifically his arm-side command.

Thankfully for the Yankees, he was decidedly better from that point on. For the season as a whole, Happ finished with a 3.47 ERA and a 4.57 FIP in 49.1 innings, with 15 bases on balls and 42 whiffs.

Yet if we take away his first two starts (a somewhat arbitrary exercise, but we’re trying to make a point here) he had a 2.34 ERA and a 3.45 FIP in 42.1 frames, with seven walks and 39 strikeouts. That’s more like it.

Dare to guess who had the highest Game Score among starts made by Yankees pitchers in 2020? No, it wasn’t Gerrit Cole. It was Happ, who completely dominated the Boston Red Sox on September 19, with eight scoreless innings, no walks and nine punchouts, and earned a 91 Game Score per Fangraphs.

By the end of September, Happ was considered to be “peaking at the right time” for the playoff-bound Yankees. He wasn’t needed in the Wild Card round against the Cleveland Indians, but he took a prominent role vs. the Tampa Bay Rays, specifically in Game 2.

The Yankees had announced rookie Deivi Garcia as the starter for that contest, but to the surprise of many, he was pulled after one inning. Happ took the hill in the second frame to act like the “bulk” reliever, something that he had never done before and, as he made it clear after the game, wasn’t comfortable doing.

In the end, the relief appearance was a disaster for Happ, who conceded five hits and four runs in 2.2 frames against the Rays. He handed out three free passes and struck out a couple of hitters, but it was clear that he was struggling from the get-go.

The Yankees lost that game 7-5 after taking the first one the night before. We will never know for sure whether they could have won that contest with better run prevention, but there is still a bad taste in the mouths of hundreds of fans.

That was Happ’s last appearance with the Yankees. The team lost the Division Series 3-2 and went home a few days after the controversial Game Two. Now, Happ is a free agent, and while you can never say never, it is highly unlikely that he returns to the Bronx. Masahiro Tanaka, for example, has a better chance of returning for next year.

All in all, Happ’s 2020 season wasn’t bad at all from a statistical standpoint, but it will likely be remembered for that lone postseason appearance. If that’s the close of Happ’s career in pinstripes, it was respectable, but ultimately unfulfilling.