J.A. Happ

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James Anthony Happ

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Biographical Information[edit]

Pitcher J.A. Happ was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the third round of the 2004 amateur draft. He was signed by scout Bob Szymkowski and made his pro debut that summer with the Batavia Muckdogs. After splitting the next season between the Lakewood BlueClaws and the Reading Phillies, he made three stops in 2006: the Clearwater Threshers, Reading again, and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. He began 2007 with the Ottawa Lynx and was called up to the majors to make a start for the Phillies on June 30th. He gave up five earned runs in four innings against the New York Mets and was then returned to AAA.

In 2008, Happ was back with the big club at the end of the season, making 4 starts in 8 appearances and picking up his first major league victory while posting a solid 3.69 ERA. In AAA, he went 8-7, 3.60 in 24 games with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. He was on the Phillies' postseason roster and made one appearance in long relief in Game 3 of the NLCS, when Jamie Moyer was knocked out early by the Los Angeles Dodgers; he pitched three innings, giving up one run on 4 hits and 2 walks. He was not used in the World Series, which the Phillies won against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Happ had an excellent rookie season in 2009, going 12-4, 2.93 in 35 games (23 starts) for the Phillies. His two shutouts were tied for the National League lead. He started Game 3 against the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS but was not involved in the decision, then was used solely out of the bullpen for the remainder of the postseason, making one other appearance in the Division Series, 3 in the NLCS and two in the World Series, which the Phillies lost to the New York Yankees.

On July 29, 2010, Happ was sent to the Houston Astros in the Roy Oswalt trade. Bothered by injuries, he had only made three starts for the Phillies, as well as nine minor league appearances before the trade. With Houston, he went 5-4, 3.75 in 13 starts. He was then a part of the Astros' rotation for all of 2011, but was only 6-15 with a 5.35 ERA. He turned things around to some extent in 2012, improving to 7-9, 4.83 after 18 starts. He was then sent to the Toronto Blue Jays as part of a 10-player blockbuster trade on July 20th. With Toronto, he started 6 times in 10 appearances, going 3-2, 4.69 in 40 1/3 innings.

The Jays made massive changes to their roster before the 2013 season, including acquiring a number of veteran starting pitchers such as Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, in an all-out bid to make the postseason. Happ appeared to be one the players on the outs as a result of the moves, and headed into spring training unsure if he would have a place on the revamped team. He seemed destined for the minor leagues, but former Jays ace Ricky Romero struggled in the spring and was sent to the minors, opening the fifth starter's job for Happ. Not only that, but Toronto then offered him a two-year contract extension, indicating that his place on the team was safe for a while. He rewarded the Jays with a very good first start, facing the Boston Red Sox on April 6th. He gave up only one hit and no runs in 5 1/3 innings to be credited with his team's 5-0 win. When he won his second start on April 12h, 8-4 over the Kansas City Royals, he was still the only Jays' starter with a win as the team was off to an unexpected rough start. On May 7th, he suffered a scary accident in a start against the Rays as Desmond Jennings lined a hit off the side of his head and into the outfield. Happ immediately fell motionless to the ground as his teammates and trainers were unsure whether to play the ball or attend to him; the hit ended up as a two-run triple, and Happ had to be removed from the game on a stretcher after lying bloodied on the ground for 10 minutes. He did manage to wave to the crowd and to teammates as he left, and initial reports from the hospital were that he was conscious and responsive. He was discharged less than 48 hours later, with only skin lacerations and contusion resulting from the blow, including a small fracture behind his left ear, while also spraining his knee when he fell down in a heap; he had managed to move to turn his head slightly away from he ball, limiting the full impact of the hit. Worst of these was the knee issue, which pushed the Jays to place him on the 60-day disabled list, as he was not expected to be back until early July. In fact, the rehabilitation took longer than anticipated, as he finally made it back to the mound for the Jays on August 7th. Facing the Seattle Mariners, he had a 7-2 lead by the 3rd inning, but was unable to hold on to it, as he gave up another run in the 4th and then allowed the first four batters in the 6th to reach; all of them scored, but he got off with a no-decision. He did much better in his next outing on August 17th, when he defeated the Rays, 6-2, pitching 5 1/3 innings to earn credit for his third win of the year. He finished the season with a record of 5-7, 4.56 in 18 starts,

In 2014, he showed he was fully over the effects of the injury when he made 26 starts in 30 appearances and pitched 158 innings, his highest total since 2009. His record was 11-11, 4.22, comparable to other members of the staff, such as Dickey and Buehrle who were also around .500. His ERA was his lowest since 2010 and he had 133 strikeouts, all positive indicators. On December 3rd, however, the Blue Jays decided to trade him to the Seattle Mariners, in return for OF Michael Saunders, targeted to become the starter in left field. The trade turned out to be a bad one for Toronto, as Saunders was injured in spring training and hardly played during the first half, whereas they were short of reliable pitchers. Happ did okay with Seattle in the first four months of 2015, starting 20 games in 21 appearances and putting up a record of 4-6, 4.64 while logging 108 2/3 innings. The Mariners had expected to contend for a postseason slot, but were well behind the division leaders at the end of July, so they traded Happ to the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 31st, in return for prospect Adrian Sampson. Pittsburgh was in need of another starter as A.J. Burnett had gone on the DL right before the trading deadline. J.A.'s acquisition may not have been much heralded, but it turned out to be one of the best deals of the season as he won five consecutive starts beginning on August 19th, as the Pirates consolidated their hold on a wild card spot. He allowed only 3 runs in 36 innings during that stretch. He went 7-2, 1.85 in 11 games as a starter for Pittsburgh, to finish the year with a combined record of 11-8, 3.61 in 32 games.

On November 27, 2015, he returned to the Blue Jays as he signed a three-year free agent contract worth $36 million. It turned out to be an inspired move by the Blue Jays, as J.A. continued on his momentum from his stint with the Pirates, putting together the best season of his career. On July 24th, he combined with three relievers on a one-hit shutout of his former team, the Mariners for his 13th win of the year, setting a new career high with over two months left to go. On July 30th, he won his 8th straight decision as he defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 9-1, with another solid performance. That win was particularly important as it allowed the Jays to take over the AL East division lead from Baltimore, capping an outstanding month of July for both J.A. and the Jays. On August 10th, he became the first 16-game winner in the majors with another sparkling performance, this one a 7-0 win over the Rays in which he allowed only 4 hits in 6 scoreless innings. He improved to 17-3 by defeating the Yankees, 7-4 on August 17th. He became a twenty-game winner for the first time on September 20th, when he defeated Mariners, 10-2. He was the second pitcher in the majors to reach the total that season, following Rick Porcello of the Boston Red Sox. The last Blue Jays pitcher to record 20 wins had been Roy Halladay in 2008. He finished at 20-4, 3.18, then won his only start against the Rangers in Game 2 of the ALDS, 5-3. He also started Game 2 of the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians but was charged with a 2-1 loss as he gave up both runs in 5 innings.

Happ started the 2017 season on the wrong foot as he was charged with a loss in his first three starts then was placed on the disabled list on April 18th. He only returned on May 30th, getting a no-decision, then lost another start before finally notching his first win of the campaign on June 11th, when he pitched 6 scoreless innings in a 4-0 win over the Seattle Mariners. He won more games in the second half, ending up at 10-11, 3.53 in 25 starts, although his ERA was constant all season. In 2018, he was selected to be the Jays' opening day starter after Marcus Stroman was set back a few days by shoulder inflammation; Happ was the logical choice to take the young ace's place. He lost that opening day game on March 29th, 6-1 to the New York Yankees, but then pitched very well, finishing April at 4-1, 3.50 as the Jays got off to a good start. After losing his first two starts in May, he came back with a great performance on May 16th, when he limited the New York Mets to two baserunners in 7 inning while striking out 10 batters and himself reaching base three times with a pair of singles and a walk. He received credit for a 12-1 win. On June 8th, he defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 5-1, for his 100th career win. He was 10-5, 4.44 on July 8th when he was selected as the Jays' sole representative at the 2018 All-Star Game, his first time going to the Mid-Summer Classic at the age of 35. On July 26th, the long-rumored trade materialized as he was sent to the New York Yankees in return for IF Brandon Drury and OF Billy McKinney. He was excellent in his debut for his new team on July 29th allowing one run just 3 hits in 6 innings as the Yanks defeated the Kansas City Royals, 6-3. A couple of days later, however the Yankees announced that J.A. was temporarily sidelined because he had contracted hand, foot and mouth disease, a children's malady that does not often affect adults but that had also hit New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard a few days earlier. On August 19th, he defeated his former team, the Jays, 10-2, to improve to 14-6 on the year, and 4-0 since the trade, giving the Yankees everything they had been looking for. He went 7-0, 2.69 for the Yankees, finishing the year at 17-6, 3.65. However, he was the loser in his only postseason appearance, as he gave up 5 runs in 2 innings in Game 1 of the Division Series against the Boston Red Sox.

He became a free agent after the 2018 season, but it was clear that the Yankees wanted him back. On December 12th, the two sides agreed on a two-year, $34 million contract. In 2019, he made 30 starts in 31 appearances for the Yankees, going 12-8, 4.91 and pitching 161 1/3 innings. As reflected by his win/loss record, his greatest quality was taking his turn regularly in the starting rotation and giving the Yankees a good chance to win every time he took the mound, but he was by no means dominating, and when the postseason came around, he was relegated to a support role. He pitched just one inning in relief in the Yankees' sweep of the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS, and another 2 2/3 innings in their loss to the Houston Astros in the NLCS. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic limited him to just 9 starts, but he pitched relatively well in these, going 2-2, 3.47. In the postseason, it wasn't clear what role he would fill, and he was not used in the two-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians in the Wild Card Series, as the Yankees needed just two starters. In the Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, it wasn't clear if he or rookie Deivi Garcia would start Game 2 on October 6th. It turned out that manager Aaron Boone tried to pull off a clever ploy, but one that failed badly, by having Garcia start the game, but then bringing in Happ after just one inning. With neither pitcher placed in a position to shine, neither did well, with Garcia giving up a solo homer to postseason break-out star Randy Arozarena in his inning of work, and Happ coughing up another pair of gopher balls, to Mike Zunino and Manuel Margot while allowing 4 runs in 2 2/3 innings and being charged with the 7-5 loss. Neither man pitched again in the series, which the Yankees lost in 7 games.

Happ became a free agent after the 2020 season and looked elsewhere for employment, as the Yankees were seemingly not interested in his being more than an insurance policy. On January 20, 2021 it was announced that he had reached a deal with the Minnesota Twins for one year and $8 million. He went 5-6, 6.77 in 19 starts for the Twins, who played surprisingly poorly in the first half and were thus in a position to trade away some veterans at the deadline. J.A. was one of the players dealt, being sent to the St. Louis Cardinals in return for John Gant and Evan Sisk.

Notable Achievements[edit]

Further Reading[edit]

  • Gregor Chisholm: "Happ earns long-awaited All-Star nod", mlb.com, July 8, 2018. [1]

Related Sites[edit]