Will the Yankees push back JA Happ’s next start?

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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.

Final thoughts

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.

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5 Comments

  1. Wire Fan

    I’m more concerned about Paxton, who the Yankees will definitely need in the postseason. Rather than shoehorning in 2 Paxton starts prior to the break just to skip Happ, go with a 6 man rotation which will give both Paxton and Happ extra rest around the break. (Against the Mets, I’d go opener/Cortes, or Happ if they don’t use him for the Sunday game. NL rules – do we want Paxton hitting and running the bases?)

    The other thing the Yankees can do is game the 10 day rule and send German down after his start on Tuesday. With the break he won’t have another start for 10+ days, so they can have an extra bullpen arm (or an extra position player like say, Clint?) for the Rays series and the series after the break. They can also do that with Cortes if he pitches the Mets game.

  2. RetroRob

    I suspect they won’t push him back to that extent. No real reason. If he’s having some physical issues we’re unaware of, sure; otherwise, probably best to get him back out there in a regular routine. CC and Paxton may both need some rest. CC because of his knee. The same maybe said for Paxton, who hasn’t been the same since he returned from the IL. The biggest concern with that schedule is German. He’ll return and probably pitch all of three or four innings, and then he’ll be shut down again for another 11 days. I suspect they’ll want to get him on a consistent rotation as quickly as possible.

    • Wire Fan

      They can option German down after his start on Tuesday and have him take a minor league start over the all-star break. This also gives the team an extra pen arm or position player for the Rays series and the series after the break.

      Then they can recall him after the all-star break and inert him back into the rotation on either normal rest or 1-2 days extra rest.

  3. Harristotle

    Really sucks that this is just year 1 of that deal too. Frustrating seeing Yanks give pretty big contracts to seemingly replacable guys just for the sake of having depth on paper, especially when we’ve seen them take a hard stance on large contracts over the years.

  4. Already pushing him back by not starting him Sunday in London… They’re taking a start from a vet to give it to bullpen day. I get why it makes sense, 2 games in 5 days, might as well give the starter extra rest and give everyone in that pen some work. When they get back all of the starters will be fresh and ready to go, for 6 games in 6 days. Yanks are more on the cautious end with the rest, I’d bet they are gonna pitch all 5 guys plus a bullpen day in those 6 games. After the ASB they can line it up how they like, that will be interesting. The same 4 guys that pitch the 4 game set against TB line up to pitch the 4 game set a week later against Boston, the 5th guy (that misses both teams) should be JA Happ IMO, though if they are still working in a pen day that wouldn’t hold.

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