2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Gradeout – J.A. Happ
The offseason is unfortunately here and so we are simultaneously tasked with reflecting on the 2015 season and looking forward to next spring. As part of Rumbunter’s off-season coverage, we will be grading out virtually every member of the Pittsburgh Pirates who spent substantial time on the team’s 25-man roster over the past season. We will look at their seasons as a whole, show you their relevant stats, and assign a final grade to each player. Today’s entry: J.A. Happ
J.A. Happ came to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a last-second trade deadline deal. Necessitated by the injury to A.J. Burnett, the expectations for Happ were for him to plug a hole for a few weeks.
The Pirates got so much more than that. And, in the midst of a downturn in his career, Happ got a lot out of the deal as well.
Happ made 11 starts for the Pirates. After a rocky initial offering – allowing four earned runs in 4.1 innings – Happ was masterful the rest of the way. Of the 10 starts that followed that auspicious debut, only one saw Happ give up three or more earned runs. Happ was revitalized by Ray Searage, Jim Benedict, and company to the tune of a 9.8 strikeout-per-nine inning rating. Coming over in the middle of another down season in the American League, this was a great improvement over the 6.8 strikeouts he mustered per nine innings while pitching for the Seattle Mariners.
Coupled with lowering his BB/9 by almost a full 1.0 per nine, Happ had an incredible 5.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio, easily the best on the Pirates starting staff.
Skeptics will crow about small sample size. With 63.1 innings pitched, that may be a fair criticism. The picture becomes clearer when looking at Happ’s ERA vs his FIP (Fielding independent pitching). FIP takes all fielding and ballpark factors away from a pitcher and replaces them with league averages. Yesterday I gauged the signability of Happ, and noted that his FIP and ERA were similar (2.19 against 1.85, respectively). This suggests that Happ’s improvement was legitimate, and not a benefit of a shift heavy team such as the Pirates.
If not for a desperate need for offense late in the year during the last series vs the St. Louis Cardinals, Happ may have had the first complete game for a Pirates starting pitcher since Edinson Volquez in 2014.
This is not to say that Happ was perfect.
Happ was aided by a .299 .BABIP (batting average on balls in play) – the second lowest among Pirates starters with at least 60 IP. He also had the lowest ground ball rate of that same set of starters with a 40.4%. Although he didn’t keep it on the carpet, he did keep it in the ballpark, with the lowest HR/FB rate of those starters with a 5.3% clip.
Although not perfect, those small tidbits are the worst things that you can pick out about Happ’s performance for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Happ played his way into a new contract – he is now a free agent – that will be considerably better than it would have been had he never stepped foot into PNC Park.
So what grade does he get for his time as a Pirate in 2015?
You’ve heard our take. Now it’s your turn. Sound off in the comments below, OR let us know on twitter.
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Next: Projecting non-tender candidates for the Pirates
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