Wednesday, September 28, 2011

J.A. Happ: Season In Review

The 2011 season for J.A. Happ was a tale of two seasons with the bad part of the season lasting longer than the good part of the season. After a brief demotion to Oklahoma City to iron out his issues with Burt Hooten, J.A. Happ returned to the Astros and finished his season with a strong six starts that gave hope that he can have a better year next year. The charts below take a look into Happ’s past two seasons compared to his 2011 season, the various stages of his 2011season, and pitch type data to try and determine why Happ struggled this season.

Happ’s 2011 season compared to his 2009 and 2010 seasons

So why did J.A. Happ struggle so much this season. The easy answer is that Happ had consistently outperformed his peripherals since his major league debut, and this year he just didn’t. The chart below compares Happ’s three seasons in the majors:

Season
GS
IP
K/9
BB/9
HR/9
BABIP
LOB%
ERA
FIP
xFIP
2009
23
166
6.45
3.04
1.08
0.266
85.2
2.93
4.33
4.43
2010
16
87.1
7.21
4.84
0.82
0.262
76.5
3.4
4.32
4.63
2011
28
156.1
7.71
4.78
1.21
0.297
65.4
5.35
4.69
4.58


Happ’s ERA of 5.35 is fueled by a higher than average homerun per nine inning rate, and also a lower than average left on base percentage this year. His FIP this year is only marginally higher than it was in 2009 and 2010, and his xFIP sits in between the 2009 and 2010 seasons which show that Happ’s 2011 season has been about the same as his previous 2 seasons minus the bad luck. One positive that can be drawn from Happ’s season this year is that he raised his strikeout per nine inning rate to 7.71 in the majors.

Happ’s 2011 season: Before demotion, AAA, After demotion

J.A. Happ made a total of 22 starts before being demoted to AAA Oklahoma City where he made another 3 starts before being recalled to make another 6 starts to close out the season. Below shows the breakdown of Happ’s 2011 season:

2011 Season
IP
K/9
BB/9
H/9
HR/9
ERA
Before Demotion (22 Starts)
119
7.56
4.76
10.21
1.29
6.28
Triple A (3 Starts)
18
8
4.5
5.5
0
1.5
After Demotion (6 Starts)
37
8.27
4.86
5.35
0.97
2.43


When Happ was sent to Oklahoma City this year one of the big things that the Astros wanted Happ to work on was his control. Through his 3 starts his walk rate really did not change that much, but he did manage to almost cut in half the number of hits he gave up per nine innings. Happ’s ERA of 1.50 was a big improvement from the 6.28 to start the season, but he benefitted from a .239 batting average on balls in play and a 75% left on base percentage which left his FIP at 2.92 which was higher than his ERA but still solid. Upon his return to the majors Happ was able to maintain his lower hits per nine innings rate which was really the only stat that changed significantly from his first 22 starts of the season.

Pitch Types for 2011 Season

Looking deeper into the reasons why Happ could have been more successful in his last 6 starts I decided to look at the breakdown between his pitches and see if there was anything different from his first 22 starts and his last 6 starts. All pitch type data was gathered by brooksbaseball.net.


Total Pitches
Fastball
Changeup
Slider
Curveball
2-seam Fastball
First 22 Starts
2293
1284
348
247
238
176
% thrown
--
56.00%
15.18%
10.77%
10.38%
7.68%
# strikes thrown
1348
817
206
134
93
98
% strikes thrown
58.79%
63.63%
59.20%
54.25%
39.08%
55.68%
# swinging strikes
160
91
24
17
13
15
% swinging strike
7%
7.09%
6.90%
6.88%
5.46%
8.52%







Last 6 Starts
660
432
88
53
56
31
% thrown
--
65.45%
13.33%
8.03%
8.48%
4.70%
# strikes thrown
409
290
52
26
24
17
% strikes thrown
62%
67.13%
59.09%
49.06%
42.86%
54.84%
# swinging strikes
63
49
9
2
2
1
% swinging strike
9.55%
11.34%
10.23%
3.77%
3.59%
3.23%


One of the things to notice since his recall is that his fastball has been more effective. He is throwing the fastball almost 10% more than he was before, and he is throwing about 4% more fastballs for strikes, and also getting 4% more swinging strikes with his fastball. He also recorded more swings and misses with his changeup since his return. Another thing to notice is that since returning he is throwing his slider and curveball less, which were his least effective pitches in terms of strikes thrown and swinging strikes. On the whole he threw more strikes since his return even though his walk rate remained about the same. He threw his fastball more often and was also more effective with it, which could suggest that if Burt Hooten said anything to him that resulted in fixing J.A. Happ then he could have said to be more aggressive with his fastball.

Final Thoughts

J.A. Happ had an up and down season in 2011, but ended the season on a high note which hopefully can carry over into the 2012 season. It seems like Happ’s success relies heavily on his batting average on balls in play and his left on base percentage which could lead to him having good years and bad years. Happ has always had a respectable strikeout rate, but also has a high walk rate. During his best seasons in the minors (2006 and 2008), and his best season in the majors (2009) his walk rate hovered around 3.2 BB/9 which shows what very well could be the key to his success.

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