J.A. Happ is an interesting entity in terms of peripheral pitching statistics and traditional pitching stats. In 269.2 Major League innings, entering this afternoon’s start against the Milwaukee Brewers, Happ had posted a 3.10 ERA despite a 4.36 FIP, 4.57 xFIP, and 4.65 tERA. This season, since being traded to the Astros, Happ has been up to the same tricks, posting a 3.08 ERA despite a 3.76 FIP, 4.27 xFIP, and a 3.72 tERA. No doubt, Happ has pitched well this season, but there’s no way that he should be a 3.08 ERA pitcher – ace quality – given his stuff or his peripherals.
Happ strikes out a fair amount of batters – between six and seven per nine innings, typically – but walks far too many to sustain that kind of ERA, as he has conceded 3.6 walks per nine innings for his career and 3.9 this season for Houston. What’s sustaining him right now is a low BABIP – .244, particularly remarkable given the fact that the Astros have been terrible defensively this season, with a .681 defensive efficiency rating that ranks 25th in the league. The other helpful factors have been a 6.2% HR/FB and an 81% LOB rate, both far better than the MLB averages.
What happened to Happ today can’t be called regression to the mean, unless his mean is a pitcher with a 9.00+ ERA and far worse peripheral stats. Happ pitched 4.1 innings against the Brewers, allowing two home runs and two walks while striking out five. The Brewers also tacked on five more hits, including three doubles. Overall, Milwaukee scored five runs off Happ, including three out of the seven baserunners he allowed (the HRs don’t count, as they were never on base to be stranded).
The start pushes Happ’s HR/FB all the way up to 9.2%, his BABIP up to .257, his ERA up to 3.63, and his FIP up to roughly 4.10. He’s still well outperforming his peripheral numbers, but the J.A. Happ you see in statistical reports tomorrow is much closer to the J.A. Happ the Astros can expect to see in the future. He’s still a productive pitcher, somewhere near or slightly below the MLB average starter, but nobody should be under any sort of delusion that he’s “great,” can replace Roy Oswalt, or is a top half of the rotation starter.
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