Although I’m a hardened cynic at heart thanks to my upbringing in the world of Philadelphia sports, even I can freely admit it’s always more fun to talk about a player who is doing well than one who is struggling. It’s even more fun to talk about a player who’s doing well and made a noticeable change prior to a stretch of success. Today, the player that fits that bill is Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ.
When Happ signed his three-year, $36 million deal with the Blue Jays this past winter, it raised a few eyebrows. You’d think we’d understand now that any player who can provide even moderate utility on a major-league roster is able to pull in spectacular amounts of money on the free-agent market. That said, the prospect of a 33-year-old pitcher who has rarely been more than a #4 during his career signing a multi-year deal of this magnitude still might require some getting used to. Any reflexive shock at all those zeros next to Happ’s name wore off pretty quickly, though. He was coming off a phenomenal second half with Pittsburgh and was exactly the sort of rotation stabilizer the Blue Jays needed.
Through the first three months of the season, Happ prevented runs at a reasonably efficient rate (3.70 ERA, 86 ERA-) but his peripherals depicted him as a more middling pitcher. His 16.9 strikeout and 7.6 walk rate — combined with a .270 BABIP — resulted in a slightly below league average 4.47 FIP (104 FIP-). It was difficult to find much optimism that Happ would be able to build upon his superficial success. But then something changed when the calendar flipped to July. Before we get to what’s different, let’s take a look at his numbers over his four starts this month:
That’ll do. It’s worth noting that these four starts weren’t against woefully inept offenses. His opponents were Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland, and Seattle. Oakland is clearly the weakest of those four and, for whatever it’s worth, he didn’t pad his numbers when he faced them. In fact, his outing against Oakland was his worst over this stretch by far.