New Blue Jay J.A. Happ is Overusing his Curveball
Sometimes it feels like all the other GM’s are just bad AI in Alex Anthopolous’ video game. You know, the kind where you can eventually acquire Albert Pujols via trade if you lump together enough C-level prospects and filler major-leaguers. Didn’t like that deal? Ok, here’s another fourth outfielder and a free-agent I signed a month ago. No? Ok, I’ll throw in my entire A- team and some junk easily available on the waiver wire (also reminicient of 99% of the trade offers one tends to recieve while playing fantasy baseball).
Not that J.A. Happ is some kind of rotation saviour, but he’s a real, living, breathing, major-league lefty with some upside, whereas Wojciechowski and Musgrove are pitchers that many years and hopefully not too many surgeries down the road you hope develop into something like J.A. Happ. It’s like the Santos deal all over again! Errrr…forget I said that.
Anyway, as at least some of you know, I am a big believer in using K rates (or K/BB ratios if you’re getting fancy/accurate about things) to evaluate pitchers. They are much more indicative of a pitcher’s true ability and much less affected by luck or other factors than anything that involves runs/hits. I also like using graphs because trends pop out that might otherwise be obscured in year-by-year accumulations.
So here’s a graph of Happ’s K’s/start since 2009 that I was looking at a couple of weeks ago, thinking ‘gee, I wouldn’t mind if they picked this guy up while he’s struggling’:
I know this is not highly scientific, but other than his 2009 September collapse (he was having a great year and then opponents hit .344/.976 off him the rest of the way), that looks to me very much like a pitcher that has been getting steadily deadlier. If I were Bruce Walton, I’d be excited about getting to work on him. His walk rate has been improving as well, and his fastball MPH is the highest it has ever been (90.33, up half a tick from 2009). It’s all the contact and HR that has the Astros giving up on him.
One thing I would consider is ditching Happ’s Curveball. Back in 2009, he was essentially a slider/changeup guy, and only threw 100 curveballs all year (4.5%). This year and last it has become his primary secondary offering (what a vile phrase) — he has already thrown 226 (13.7%), and while he gets more swing-and-misses on them than any of his other off-speed stuff, they only result in a strike 28% of the time, compared to 52% for his fastball, 38% for his slider, and 32% for his change.
Errr…wait. That probably explains the increase in K’s, too. He has fallen in love with his curve because guys don’t make contact with it, but he’s falling behind in counts and not getting the easy outs he was with his slider. So it makes sense that hits and HR would be up, too. Now do I rewrite this whole post so it looks like I knew that all this time, or just bail out now and put it in the title? Hmmmmm.