If I had to use one word to describe the reaction to the Blue Jays’ signing of J.A. Happ this past offseason, it would be “lukewarm”.
Many people recall the mediocre version of J.A. Happ during his first stint with the Blue Jays. During those three years in Toronto, Happ was fairly average and was never quite more than a middle-of-the-rotation arm; hardly the kind of pitcher the Blue Jays needed to bring back.
But last year in Pittsburgh, something happened. Ray Searage worked his magic with yet another starting pitcher and helped turn J.A. Happ’s season around, as he put forth one of the strongest second halves by a starting pitcher in 2015.
So when Tony LaCava instrumented the free agent signing of J.A. Happ last winter, the reception was quite mixed. Were the Blue Jays getting the 2012-2014 version of J.A. Happ? Or were they getting the second half of 2015 version of J.A. Happ.
During his first stint as a Blue Jay, J.A. Happ left a lot to be desired. But this incarnation of J.A. Happ is a completely different story.
Happ put forth yet another dominant start for the Blue Jays on route to a 7-0 thumping of the Tampa Bay Rays. Happ was a big contributor as he shut out the Rays and held them to only four hits through six innings.
For those keeping track, that now makes five starts for Happ this season in which he’s allowed no earned runs. In 19 or 24 starts this year, Happ has allowed three earned runs or less.
In doing so, J.A. Happ lowered his ERA to 2.96 and he just entered the conversation as one of the favourites for the American League Cy Young Award.
Were this 10 years ago, J.A. Happ would have the Cy Young Award already locked up due to his win-loss record alone. But casting his 16-3 record aside, Happ is still statistically one of the best starting pitchers in the American League.
If we go by ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor, J.A. Happ is now out in front as the favourite to win the American League Cy Young. Granted it isn’t gospel as this formula takes int0 account statistics like wins and saves, but Happ belongs near the top of that list nonetheless.
Looking around the American League, there hasn’t really been one clear-cut name among starting pitchers to pencil onto that ballot. You could argue any one of J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez or Marco Estrada deserve consideration for the Cy Young, but J.A. Happ has just pulled out ahead of his teammates in the race.
While Sanchez and Estrada’s strengths are quite apparent, Happ goes about his business in a very understated fashion. Aaron Sanchez is well-known for his fastball movement and curveball. Marco Estrada is revered for his control and changeup.
But what has been the key to J.A. Happ’s renaissance? Quite simply, it’s his fastball – which according to FanGraphs pitch value metric is the best in the American League this season.
Were the season to end today, J.A. Happ would definitely be in the discussion as one of the top starters in the AL. Because it’s such a tightly-bunched group, he may have a tough time in an attempt to get those Cy Young votes. But he’s just as deserving as any of the top starters right now.
Considering that this is only the first of J.A. Happ’s extremely modest three year/$36 million dollar contract, I kind of regret ever questioning whether this was a good signing by the Blue Jays. At this rate, Happ will pay for that entire contract with the numbers he puts up this season alone.