Tao’s 37 Jays in 37 days: J.A. Happ

February 21, 2013, 1:08 PM

Who: J.A. Happ. Number 38. Left-handed pitcher. Starter? Maybe. Reliever? Sometimes. 6’6″, 195 lbs. 30 years old.

Provenance: Peru. (Illinois, that is.) Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2004 amateur draft out of Northwestern University.

Acquired: Came to the Blue Jays in the massive mid-season deal with the Houston Astros on July 20, 2012.

Contract status: Avoided arbitration with a one-year, $3.7 million deal. Has minor league options remaining.<

Back of the Baseball Card: Six seasons with Philadelphia, Houston and Toronto. 116 games (96 starts), 590 innings. 4.19 ERA, 1.39 WHIP. Strikes out 7.6 hitters per nine innings, walks 3.94.

2012 Stats:28 games (24 starts) between Houston and Toronto. 144.2 innings, 4.79 ERA. Struck out 8.96 per nine, walked 3.48.

2012 Repertoire, as per Brooks Baseball: Four-seam fastball (91.2 MPH average) thrown on 48 per cent of pitches. Also uses sinker (16 per cent, 90.9 MPH), cutter (14 per cent, 84.4 MPH), curve (11 per cent, 77.7), and change (11 per cent, 83.1 MPH).

Injury history: Missed the last month of 2012 with a broken foot. Also missed three months of 2010 with a left forearm strain.

Looking back: By the time J.A. Happ arrived in Toronto last July, most Jays fans had just about abandoned hope on the season. The outrageous misfortune that befell the pitching staff left the team in such a state that Happ’s appearance seemed like disaster relief as much as anything else.

Oddly, the Jays brain trust immediately shoved him into a bullpen role, figuring that they’d rather see more starts from Aaron Laffey, Brett Cecil and the decaying corpse of Ricky Romero and his frayed left arm. After pushing the issue with the square-jawed chief-in-charge, Happ eventually wedged his way into the rotation, and the results were respectable if not spectacular (4.59 ERA, 39 Ks/12 BBs in 33 innings.)

Ultimately, though, no Jays pitcher could escape the grim hand of injury last season, and Happ eventually succumbed to a nasty break on his planting foot, resulting in him missing the balance of the season.

At his best, Happ showed what a decent left-handed starter with a dash of heat could bring to the table. Successive starts in August against a tough Texas lineup and a decent Tigers lineup featured Happ pounding the zone with strikes, fanning eight and seven batters respectively while limiting each team to a single earned run. Yes it’s a minute sample, but it showed that in flashes he is more than a Quad-A or replacement-level starter.

Looking ahead: It’s probably an exercise in narrative-building to say that the missed time at the end of the season led to Happ falling out of the Jays’ 2013 plans, even if that’s where our lesser instincts are pushing at this moment. It’s might be more fair to say that even in a rotation that hadn’t added three legitimate starters in the offseason, Happ would be a fringe rotation candidate at best.

At the same time, he wasn’t handed almost $4 million simply to enhance the Buffalo Bisons’ entertainment value this season. Given the injury histories of Romero, Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson, the sixth or seventh starter needs to be a player who can legitimately step in and hold his own, especially in a season where this team fancies itself as a legitimate contender.

Happ’s role will be a thankless one in 2013. It’s doubtful that many will be happy to see him whenever he eventually gets the call. But he’s a very respectable option should the Blue Jays need reinforcements for any stretch of the coming season.

Optimistically: Pitches well enough when called upon that the Jays have a legitimate pitching asset come the trade deadline.

Pessimistically: Happ flounders in Buffalo, and falls behind Brad Lincoln or Chad Jenkins in the pecking order for emergency rotation slots.

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