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Is the old J.A. Happ back?

J.A. Happ is having a great spring so far. The veteran left-hander is 2-0 with a sparkling 1.38 ERA over 13.0 innings pitched. He has struck out 16 and walked only one. So is this the resurgence of J.A. Happ? Well, if you take a look at the numbers, it started in the second-half of last season.

Happ’s first half was atrocious: 5.02 ERA. His second-half overall wasn’t much better: 4.77 ERA. But he did pitch to a 1.65 ERA in September in 27.1 innings. His HR/FB rate dropped drastically from 30.8 percent in August to 7.1 percent in September.

If you look at his pitch usage by month, not much changed. However, one thing that did change was his fastball usage jumped from around 45 percent to 55 percent from August to September. The spin rate on his fastball stayed constant, but it appears as if the fastball is Happ’s strongest pitch. It has the highest spin of any of his pitches. Aside from his curveball (which he threw only 22 times in 2019), his fastball had the lowest expected batting average against. 

This spring, he has noted that he made a mechanical adjustment which allows him to go more directly to home plate. It definitely has helped since going directly towards the plate allows a pitcher to have better and more consistent control. As aforementioned, Happ has only walked one batter so far this spring. 

Aaron Boone agrees that his fastball has been strong, but also states that his secondary pitches have been much better:

“I think you start with the crispness of the fastball which was there, a little more sporadic, and definitely returned to some degree later in the year and that’s been there the whole time. I think he is doing a better job with his secondary pitches — the changeup and slider a little more of a factor. I think his changeup has been a real factor for him and then his two-seamer [fastball]. You saw a couple of comeback pitches to the inside corner for called strikes to righties which he got away from last year. I feel like his pitch mix is a little tightened up. I think stuff wise, delivery wise and everything he is in a good spot.’’

With Luis Severino out for the year, James Paxton out until at least May, and Domingo German out until early June, having 2018 Happ will significantly boost the Yankees rotation.