Opinion

Wild Card Game: making the case for J.A. Happ

There wasn’t much argument for it on Opening Day. There wasn’t much argument for it even at the trade deadline. But J.A. Happ gives the Yankees the best chance at winning the Wild Card Game. He’s easily the most consistent pitcher the Yanks have right now, and the playoffs are all about right now.

Season Totals — Game-Level
Split W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP WP BF WHIP SO9 SO/W
2018 Totals 16 6 3.57 30 171.2 146 77 68 26 49 0 186 9 4 709 1.136 9.8 3.80
Last 7 days 0 0 1.80 1 5.0 5 1 1 1 2 0 7 0 0 21 1.400 12.6 3.50
Last 14 days 0 0 0.82 2 11.0 9 2 1 1 5 0 13 0 0 46 1.273 10.6 2.60
Last 28 days 1 0 2.30 5 27.1 27 8 7 5 6 0 24 1 2 113 1.207 7.9 4.00

Let’s look at Happ’s recent numbers. The southpaw hasn’t lost a game in a month. He’s pitched to the fine tune of a 2.30 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. He’s consistent. Does he have as high a ceiling as Luis Severino or Masahiro Tanaka? Definitely not. But what the Yankees need in the Wild Card is a pitcher with a high floor, not necessarily a high ceiling. With their bullpen, the Yankees just need a starter to keep them in the game and get through five, maybe six innings. That screams Happ. He doesn’t walk a ton of guys, he doesn’t give up too many home runs, and he strikes batters out at a respectable clip.

Plus, Happ has proven his worth against the Oakland Athletics. He’s made one start against them this year, tossing 6 innings of 2 hit, 1 run ball. Lifetime, he holds a solid 3.47 ERA over 59.2 innings. And in Yankee Stadium, where in all probability this game will be, Happ’s numbers are strong. Across 39.2 innings this season, his ERA is just 2.72. In his career, it’s only about a half run lower at a still respectable 3.39.

Platoon Splits
Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
vs RH Starter 1041 102 3953 3530 520 902 202 15 146 498 26 14 341 864 .256 .325 .445 .771 1572 80 42 5 35 11 40 .296 101 110
vs LH Starter 611 56 2150 1919 270 478 114 5 73 259 9 5 190 476 .249 .326 .428 .754 821 53 33 1 7 6 12 .294 98 108
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/26/2018.

In addition, as shown above the A’s are actually slightly worse offensively against left-handed starters than righties. Their batting average, slugging percentage and OPS are all slightly lower against lefties. Does that mean CC Sabathia should start? No. But it does add extra weight to a Happ consideration.

Happ also has solid postseason numbers. Do the Yankees want another Severino blow up like last year? Do you want a home run prone Tanaka? You can’t take those risks in a do-or-die game. In his two postseason starts in 2016, Happ went 5 innings/1 run and 5 innings/2 runs. That’s fine. That’s more than fine with this offense hitting the way it has been since Judge returned.

Happ isn’t the sexiest name to start the wild card, but he doesn’t need to be. Save the higher ceiling pitchers for when it’s not do-or-die in the ALDS, for when there’s some wriggle room to take chances. During Wednesday’s broadcast both David Cone and Michael Kay argued how Happ was the Yankees best pitcher over the last month. So why would we risk pitching Tanaka or Severino? Because they’re bigger names? Higher ceiling pitchers? If the Yankees want the best chance at getting through to the ALDS, Happ is the answer.

 

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