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Appreciating J.A. Happ’s Career

This afternoon, J.A. Happ announced his retirement from baseball after 15 years in MLB. The southpaw played for eight different teams and while he wasn’t a star, Happ consistently found his way into the rotation of every team he played for.

Early Ups and Downs

Happ was a third-round pick by the Phillies in the 2004 MLB Draft out of Northwestern University. He made his big-league debut in 2007 but was rocked for five runs and seven hits by the Mets in his lone start that season. In 2008, Happ spent most of the year in the minors, making just four starts (eight appearances) for the Phillies, but he made the postseason roster and as a result, won a World Series ring.

Happ was set to be used as a reliever in 2009, but he got his chance to start in the middle of the season and never gave up his spot in the rotation. In his true rookie season, Happ made 23 starts (35 appearances), turning in a strong 2.93 ERA (144 ERA+) and a 1.235 WHIP and tying for the NL lead with two shutouts. Happ finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, narrowly behind Chris Coghlan. Despite Happ"s low strikeout rate (6.5 K/9) and questionable 4.33 FIP, he continued to see success in 2010, though he was traded to the Astros that summer as part of the deal to bring Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia.

Happ"s tenure in Houston was rocky, as the troubling peripherals eventually caught up with him and he registered just a 4.84 ERA in parts of three seasons. In July of 2012, Happ was traded as part of a 10-player deal with the Blue Jays.

In Toronto, Happ remained as a starting pitcher but still produced below-average numbers, though his 4.22 ERA/4.26 FIP in 2014 suggested that he was improving slightly from his Houston days. Following that season, Happ was traded to the Mariners in exchange for Michael Saunders, but once again, he got off to a rocky start in Seattle. With just a 4.64 ERA/4.12 FIP and a 1.408 WHIP, the Mariners shipped Happ to the Pirates for Adrian Sampson.

Finding His Stride

With his fifth team in six years, Happ thrived in Pittsburgh, producing the best stretch of his career. In 11 starts, Happ turned in a sparkling 1.85 ERA/2.19 FIP and a 1.026 WHIP with 69 strikeouts in 63.1 innings (9.8 K/9). After being plagued by the home run ball his entire career, Happ allowed just three homers for the Pirates and helped lead them to a 98-64 record and a Wild Card birth.

Thanks to his strong performance down the stretch, Happ signed back in Toronto for three years and $36 million. In his age-33 season, Happ had the best full season of his career, going 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA/3.96 FIP (134 ERA+), a 1.169 WHIP, and 163 strikeouts in a career-high 195 innings (7.5 K/9). Happ also finished sixth in Cy Young voting and continued to pitch well in the postseason, allowing just three runs in 10 innings.

Happ was solid again in 2017, turning in a 3.53 ERA/3.76 FIP with 142 strikeouts in 145.1 innings (8.8 K/9), but the Blue Jays struggled and missed the playoffs. In 2018, Happ finally made his first All-Star Game at the age of 35 despite his ERA rising to over 4.00 for the first time since 2014. With Toronto still underperforming though, Happ was sent to the Yankees in exchange for Billy McKinney and Brandon Drury.

Down the stretch, Happ found his old form, going 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA/4.21 FIP with a 1.052 WHIP and 63 strikeouts in 63.2 innings (8.9 K/9). All told, Happ registered a career-high 195 strikeouts (a 9.8 K/9) as well as a career-low a 1.131 WHIP.

Ending Wasn"t As Bad As People Say It Was

Following the 2018 season, Happ re-signed with the Yankees for two years and $34 million. While the ensuing seasons weren"t great, much like the last Star Wars trilogy, the results weren"t as bad as people say they were. Happ was able to provide the Yankees and their beat-up rotation with 39 starts, and in the 2019 postseason, he gave them 3.2 innings of one-run ball.

After the 2020 season, Happ signed a one-year contract with the Minnesota Twins. His time in Minneapolis was pretty rough, but after getting sent to St. Louis at the trade deadline, Happ was able to somewhat salvage his season. In 11 starts, Happ pitched to a 4.00 ERA/4.61 FIP and 1.278 WHIP with 45 strikeouts in 54 innings (7.8 K/9). Thanks in part to Happ, the Cardinals caught fire and nabbed a Wild Card birth in the final days of the season.

While Happ wasn"t necessarily the flashiest pitcher, he was able to fill whatever role needed by his team.

main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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