Let’s face it: the relationship between J.A. Happ and the New York Yankees may not be the best right now. The left-hander has hinted that the team is purposely limiting his starts and innings so he doesn’t reach the necessary milestones for his 2021 option to vest.
Those skipped starts also coincide with postponements that allowed the team to use Gerrit Cole more than they normally could have, so it’s debatable how deliberate that slight has been. However, since Happ would be playing for a contract for next season and beyond, it’s in his best interest to try and perform at the highest possible level.
And, save for Happ’s first two starts this year, he has delivered. For the season, he has a solid, if unspectacular 3.96 ERA in 36.1 innings, with a 7.43 K/9 and a 3.22 BB/9 mark. He has been somewhat lucky, with a 5.13 FIP, an 81.3 strand rate and a .242 BABIP, but if we consider his overall body of work in 2020, he has been a steady presence in the rotation.
We can divide Happ’s season in two parts: his first two starts and his last five. After his first couple of turns, there was an feeling that he might be washed: he conceded eight earned runs in seven frames for a 10.29 ERA. Happ had eight walks and only three strikeouts during that timeframe, and he said after his second start that he had issues with command to the arm side.
Righting the ship at the most opportunistic time
Since then, Happ has made adjustments and finally righted the ship from that point on: of his next five starts, he only allowed more than two runs in one of them, and has a 2.45 ERA with a 3.64 FIP in 29.1 innings. His 5/27 BB/K ratio during that span is indicative of his success: his 1.53 BB/9 would lead us to believe that he ironed his command issues out.
In his last two turns, Happ has pitched 11.1 frames with only two bases on balls and 15 punchouts. Only three batters have crossed the plate during that time, and it came against two good offenses: Toronto and Baltimore. Overall, we can say that Happ has given the Yankees length and quality whenever he has stepped in the rubber this season, except for those first two outings. He has been a good, reliable back-end starter, just what the Bombers needed.
And, according to the numbers and the eye test, he seems to be peaking at the right time. Now that fellow left-hander James Paxton will not pitch again this season, the team needs Happ to keep performing at a high level.
To be fair, every member of the Yankees’ rotation is currently performing at a high level, a welcome development not long after the team had to endure a rough 20-game stretch in which they lost 15 times. Thankfully, for J.A. Happ and the Yankees, the pieces seem to be falling in the right places, even though the marriage may not be enjoying the happiest days. If 2020 will be his final season in the Bronx, might as well leave on a high note.