Three off days flank this weekend’s London Series and five more games follow it before it’s time for the All-Star break. That, along with Domingo German set to return from the injured list, leaves the Yankees with a chance to keep JA Happ off the mound for a while. I’m sure many of you would welcome that after his latest dud against Houston. As Mike Axisa noted on the RAB Thoughts Patreon, the Yankees could forego a Happ start until July 16th. I’ve mapped that out below:
Just note that the order I mocked can vary and still have Happ unused until the 16th. Even though the opportunity is there, will the Yankees push Happ into mid-July?
Why the Yankees should do this
Do I really need to explain? Let’s just add some context for emphasis. Here’s where Happ ranks in a few metrics:
- ERA: 5.23 (79th of 82 qualified starters)
- FIP: 5.48 (79th of 82)
- xFIP: 4.91 (68th of 82)
- Barrel Percentage: 6.5% (112th of 139 starters with >150 balls in play)
- Hard Hit Percentage: 40.0% (96th of 139)
None of that’s good. Sure, he’s sprinkled in a few quality starts, but far more often than not he fails to give any length while also putting the team behind. As an example, just take his last start: 4+ innings, 11 hits, 8 runs, 3 home runs, and just 2 strikeouts.
It would be one thing if his previous outing was an anomaly, but it’s not. Of his 16 starts, here are some noteworthy lowlights:
- 6 starts with 4 runs or more allowed; 3 of those starts he gave up at least six runs
- Pitched five or fewer innings in 9 starts
- 4 quality starts (6 IP, 3 runs allowed or better)
So even when Happ pitches decently, he can’t really go more than five innings. That’s tough on the bullpen especially when they’ve been relying on an opener quite a bit lately. Plus, it’s not like many other starters are working deep into games.
All of this points to some sort of respite from Happ. He’s simply not a good pitcher right now and is making life harder on the rest of the club.
Why the Yankees shouldn’t do this
There are a few downsides to taking a break from Happ. Perhaps the biggest issue is: how does the team use utilize him elsewhere? A trip to the injured list requires some sort of medical support, and though I’m sure nearly all pitchers have some sort of malady, it takes two to tango. Happ would have to be on board for a phantom stint. If that doesn’t take, Happ would have to be available in long relief (aside: That might not be a bad place for him to work out the kinks; pitch him in low-leverage situations only).
Still, being a long reliever for a couple weeks comes with other complications. Mainly, it would take Happ out of his usual routine. Starters are creatures of habit, and Happ’s schedule would become fairly unpredictable in the bullpen.
Does putting Happ in the bullpen or on the injured list actually help him get back on track? I’m less inclined to believe a long relief role would work, given its sporadic need. Happ still needs to get regular work in during side sessions and bullpens in order to adapt. That’s something more doable while on the shelf. And even then, there’s no guarantee that works. Remember, it took CC Sabathia a while to reinvent himself.
Finally, his start against Houston aside, Happ was trending in the right direction recently. In five starts before the Astros one, Happ owned a 3.54 ERA and 3.97 FIP in 28 innings. He had also struck out 24, walked 6, and given up 4 homers.
Like it or not, Happ is going to be a fixture in the rotation the rest of the season. He doesn’t have to pitch in the postseason, which is just fine with me. But, there’s really no avoiding him over the summer. Even with German returning next week, Severino’s (hopefully) eventual return, and perhaps even a trade, Happ will be around. Remember, James Paxton and CC Sabathia have bad knees, Severino is still a big question mark, and German has an innings limit.
So what will the Yankees do? My hunch is that they would be more inclined to skip Happ if the race was closer right now. They’re six and ten games up in the loss column on the Rays and Red Sox, respectively. And with German back, keeping Happ in turn will strengthen their bullpen that has been shortened without Chad Green. Whether it’s against the Mets or Rays next week, I expect to see Happ on the bump.