His start today against the Cardinal’s right-handed heavy offense will certainly be a very big test, but I still like J.A. Happ for the rest of the season.
Happ has improved most of his meaningful, predictive numbers. His strikeout rate is way up, at 23.1% (9.05 K/9) against a career average of 19.2% (7.39 K/9) and his walk rate has actually dropped to 8.5% (3.34 BB/9) against a career rate of 10.3% (3.99). The improvement of his strikeout and walk rates have allowed him to record a reasonable 2.71 K/BB, which is significantly better than the 1.85 mark he has for his career. While a 2.71 K/BB rate is not a tremendous number, it does show that he has improved.
The most notable difference in Happ this year is a slight velocity uptick. His fastball is up about a half mile per hour, while his other pitches are all up in according while his change up has actually increased to 82.3 mph from 80.9 mph. While he throws his change up just 10% of the time, the pitch has been reasonably effective according to linear pitch weights at 0.7. For his career, it has been a pretty terrible pitch, with a value of -6.8, so the increased velocity on it may make the pitch a bit more deceptive.
Along with the improved strikeout and walk rates, Happ has seen a huge increase in his ground ball rate. After being a rather normal pitcher in terms of batted ball rates, he has seen his ground ball rate shoot up almost 10%, up to 46.5% this year. The improved ground ball rate forces me to believe that the .328 BABIP will come down, and the better strikeout rate makes me believe that the oddly high 14.7% HR/FB rate will also decline.
With an xFIP of 3.63, Happ looks like a pretty solid pitcher to pick up or buy low on. For his career, he has outperformed his defense independent pitching stats, as his 4.04 ERA compared to mid 4.00 FIP/xFIP/SIERA numbers. He does seem to be a different pitcher though, so expecting him to outperform his peripherals may not be the wisest way to analyze his future performance. Even so, with his newly found ground ball rate along with solid K/BB skills, his results should start accurately portraying his performance. Although amount of quality starts is not the best metric ever, Happ having eight in 11 starts does show that he is rather consistent. I’m picking him up in one league, and I recommend you do as well if you have a need for pitching.