Exit Interview 2021: J.A. Happ

As is tradition around these parts after the season is over, we’re taking a look at every player that got into a game for the St. Louis Cardinals this season.  That’ll range from someone that didn’t record an out to someone that played almost every inning.  Treat it like they are stopping by the manager’s office (umm, also imagine this was before the managerial change) on their way home for the winter for a performance review.  Stats listed are ones generated during their time with the Cards and the grade is based not only on their performance but on the expectations for them going into the season.  As he has the past few years, the legend that is cardinalsgifs has provided our excellent header image!

Player: J.A. Happ

Season stats: 5-2, 4.00 ERA, 11 G, 54.0 IP, 52 H, 9 HR, 17 BB, 45 K, 4.61 FIP, 1.278 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 0.4 bWAR, 0.4 fWAR

Statcast: .354 xwOBA, 11.6 barrel %, 90.2 exit velocity, 41.8 hard hit %, 18.2 K %, 7.2 BB %

Best Statcast category: BB % (67th percentile)

Worst Statcast category: xSLG (4th percentile)

Hero/Goat: Goat 1

Grade: B

Positives: Dropped his ERA by about three runs after coming over from the Twins….the FIP also declined, though by significantly less….allowed zero runs in three of his starts with St. Louis….one of those was against the Cubs, though for only four innings in game one of a doubleheader….allowed two or fewer runs in seven of his starts….limited left-handed batters to a .669 OPS….had a .789 OPS at home (both in Minnesota and St. Louis)….went 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA in August….was very good if he got a win, putting up a 2.20 ERA in the 10 wins he had across the two teams….sixth place hitters had a .705 OPS….batters hit .264 when he was ahead in the count….they hit .228 when he had two outs in the inning….kept batters to a .702 OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position….only had nine at bats that were considered “late and close” but limited hitters to one for nine with three strikeouts….had a 3.86 ERA with five days of rest….kept the Cubs to a .584 OPS….had a .737 OPS at Busch Stadium.

Negatives: Blew up against the Reds, allowing seven runs in one inning against them in September….allowed a .901 OPS against right-handers….had a 6.86 ERA on the road….in his eight losses between the two teams he allowed a 1.275 OPS….had an ERA of 4.90 or higher no matter what level of run support he got….leadoff hitters had a .934 OPS against him while third and fifth place hitters had OPSes over 1.000….batters slashed .416/.423/.779 on his first pitch….they hit .306 when the count was even….with no outs in an inning, gave up a .996 OPS….allowed a .304 average with runners in scoring position….fashioned a .910 OPS against in high leverage situations….had an 11.00 ERA in the fourth inning….batters slugged over .500 on every slice of 25 pitches (the first 25, 26-50, etc.)….had a 7.90 ERA on four days of rest.

Overview: The results were definitely better when Happ left Minnesota and moved into a pitcher’s ballpark with five Gold Glovers behind him but the changes might have been mainly that, external.  When you look at how Happ was beat around with the Twins and some of the underlying numbers with the Cardinals, it really felt that the defense bailed him out.  As noted, his fielding independent pitching number was .6 runs different rather than the significant drop in ERA.  That said, Happ definitely helped out the 2021 Cardinals who were scuffling and had basically tapped out their pitching depth.  Happ (and Jon Lester) allowed Johan Oviedo to spend some extended time in Memphis to hopefully sort out some of his command issues.  Happ’s 2.8 walks per nine was definitely a relief after seeing a pitching staff that really struggled to find the strike zone for much of the first half of the season.  For a band-aid, Happ did the job and did it well.

Outlook: The question is whether or not you should keep a band-aid on too long.  At the time of his acquisition it was suggested that the Cardinals were looking at him (more than Lester) as being a person they could extend and keep around.  The club didn’t do that before the end of the season and currently Happ is a free agent, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t try to circle back around to him.  I think it would probably be best if they took what they got and didn’t get greedy, but depending on what other arms they chase, bringing Happ back on a cheap contract that allows for depth but also allows for him to be easily waived should it be necessary wouldn’t be the worst thing.  It’s not recommended, but not the worst thing.

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