JA Happ thoughts

I figured this would be a decent topic today, since the winter leagues haven’t started and there isn’t much else going on. I’m sure many of you watched Happ’s start last night. I did as well, and here are a few thoughts I had while observing…

* His velocity is still consistently in the high 80’s. Last year and the year before there were reports of him hitting 91-94, but according to MLB Gameday, which is the most accurate reading you’ll find, more accurate than the TV guns, he was 87-89 the entire night. What makes that seem faster is the way he hides the ball behind his back, and the fact that he’s very tall and lanky, meaning the ball gets on the hitter quicker because it’s released closer to home plate. This should also be a lesson, don’t always believe the velocity numbers you hear from scouts, they have a reason to embellish at times.

* Happ leaned very heavily on his fastball and changeup. By my quick count, this was his breakdown

Fastball: 57 (61.3%)
Change: 26 (28.0%)
Slider: 9 (9.7%)
Curve: 1 (0.01%)

You can argue over whether he throws a slider or a curve, its kind of a tweener pitch, so just make that 10 total, which would be 10.8%. He clearly was leaning heavily on his fastball and changeup, which seems like the smart thing to do. His one big mistake came on the slider, which Kelly Johnson deposited into the seats in RF. This winter and in spring training, tightening the break on his slider/curve should be his #1 priority.

* If he is a two pitch pitcher, he’s still better than the 1 pitch pitcher he replaced in the rotation. He needs to refine his location a bit, but last night he kept the ball down when he had to. The book on him will get out, and he’ll need to do a good job of mixing his pitches. If he can tighten the break on his slider, I see no reason why he can’t win a rotation spot next season.

What were your thoughts?

44 thoughts on “JA Happ thoughts

  1. I have a related question–hopefully this doesn’t stray too far into the realm of Big Club speculation, but you kinda asked for it. What to do about Kyle Kendrick? I can’t imagine he has a ton of trade value. If Happ is in the rotation next year, as seems likely, and the rest stays the same, does KK go back to Triple A to learn another pitch? They’ve been talking consistently about how he needs a better breaking pitch. If it hadn’t been for an emergency last year, and Kendrick’s resulting success, that’s probably what he would have been working on developing it this year. Or is it a case of he is what he’s going to be at this point–a fringe #5 starter?

  2. Happ’s biggest attribute is his control. He’s been spot on in his starts this year, and I like the late life he has on his fastball. His change is underrated IMO, and I feel it’s definitely big league caliber. I agree 100% that he needs to tighten the break on his slider, but if he does so is he then a lock for the rotation? I can’t really say anything should be guaranteed on the few starts he’s had, but he surely deserves to be given first consideration. He’s far more serviceable than Kendrick simply based on his control and ability to throw a secondary pitch, and I can’t say KK really gets the benefit of the doubt at all right now. Obviously the organization feels the same way about Kendrick, hopefully they agree with us about Happ as well.

  3. I’m kind of confused about the misrespresentation of Kendrick- he throws a nice hard slurve in the low 80’s. Its a good pitch, the organizations concern is that he’s abandoned his changeup in situations where he needs it. Against lefties he got to the point where he was only throwing his fastball.

    I think Happ and Kendrick are pretty equal in terms of quality. Happ is riding a high right now, and seems to have the stuff and aptitude to be a guy that wins 10-14 games a couple of times- but he’s a fly ball pitcher, and destined to have a few bad streaks as well until he matures as a big leaguer.

  4. As for his drop in velocity, he’s pitched alot this year, and his velocity was better earlier in the season- just seems to be a matter of fatigue.

  5. Glad to see this here, I missed the game and was very interested in his performance. The abduance of DEEP flyballs in his last start at Turner Field had me concerned as I thought a lot of those would go out of CBP but if he’s keeping the ball down that makes a huge difference.

    I still feel the same about him, servicable 4/5 guy, which isn’t a terrible thing. It’s better to develop one then go and spend $24 million on one (Eaton).

    I think Kendrick battles Happ for the #5 spot next year and it depends on who does the most this offseason to improve their second and third pitches, but at this point I’d say Happ has a huge edge. Kendrick could take the time to reinvent himself a little at AAA and we’d have two guys at AAA (Carrasco included) who could step up and make some starts in the rotation so they won’t need to go and sign another Benson or Eaton.

    I think Happ should make the postseason roster if they go to the playoffs and be available to come in early if someone gets lit up in the 2nd or 3rd.

  6. Kendrick is being sent to instructional league this winter to work on a changeup. He essentially does not have a changup as it is the same speed as his fastball.

  7. I like him to compete for the 5 spot next year. Kendrick is a good guy to have at AAA along with CC. Happ’s stuff is just okay, but the height and length/deception reallly helps him out. I think that (not stuff) is what seperates him from Kendrick.

  8. Happ is currently a good stop-gap guy but as mentioned above, he needs to develop a consistent slider/curve that he is willing to throw or he will eventually struggle just like Kendrick did after the league got a chance to see him a few times.

    A 2-pitch starter will not be successful unless they are both ++ pitches. Neither Happ or Kendrick meet that criteria.

    As for next season, I suspect that Happ, Kendrick, Carrasco, and ‘gulp’ Eaton will battle it out for the 5th spot, assuming the rest of the rotation remains the same..

  9. I thought Happ was great last night. I think he was squeezed a bit in the 5th. He walked the 7th batter but it looked like he struck him out looking twice. This led to a hit by the 8th batter and he had the pitcher pop up to Howard. Facing two more batters that inning changed the dynamic of the game. If he gets the call during the 5th he’d start the 6th facing the 8th hole and pitcher. That is a major difference instead he faced the top of the line up for the 3rd time in the 6th. I wish I was paying closer attention to the game but thats all I have.

    Happ is clearly better than Kendrick. Happ has better movement on his pitches and already has two effective major league pitches. He has started in four pressure games this year and came up big in all of them. He is a 3-5 starter depending on the development of his slider.

    I like KK a lot but he needs to develop a change up. I’ve been saying for a long time that Brandon Webb was not Brandon Webb until he developed a ++ change up at 24. Kendrick is just turning 24 and he already has a plus sinker and average slurve that he can throw to righties. If he fails to develop a change up then he is a fringe guy that had incredible run support for a year. If he develops an + change-up then he’s a 3-5 guy or even a #2 if it turns into a ++ change. We just do not know whats going to happen to him next year. I’m hoping he is a major surprise.

  10. O and another thing. The lack of steroids will really help pitchers like Happ. No one will hit 50 this year and I don’t even think there are many players with 30 home runs this year. Happ still needs to keep the ball down but I don’t think he’ll have a real homerun problem.

    And another thing CBP is turning into a neutral ball park so I don’t think we have to worry as much. The Phillies have 3 of the best power hitters in the game.

  11. I see Happ as a 5 right now, which isn’t bad. His future depends on his ability to keep getting guys out with his fastball and change-up. If he can improve his breaking pitch than it could be another story. He has a good presence on the mound and his last two starts are helping his case to stay on the rotation next year. Its almost impossible to discuss Happ without bringing up the guy he replaced, Kendrick. KK is still young and its hard to give up on him. He is a one pitch pitcher right now. Unless he improves his slider and comes up with a much better change up, I don’t see how he can keep getting MLB hitters out. He has a hard task at hand, because learning to throw an effective change up is not an easy task. Webb was able to do it and it did wonders for him. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of KK, but he has a lot of work to do.

  12. One note on Happ, I’ve heard that he throw a cutter also, so that would probably change the percentages listed for what he threw, unless he’s abandoned it for now. The Phillies announcers talked about his cutter in one of his earlier starts. Here’s a couple articles that mention it as well:



    “I’ve been throwing a cutter, which has been a good pitch for me,” Happ said

  13. Happ is a very interesting case. What really is fascinating is that Happ has a low fastball that is hard to hit – it might even be a strikeout pitch (much was made of this during the broadcast last night). Specifically, Happ is so tall, the hides the ball so well, that he can cause batters to swing and miss at fastballs that are low in the strike zone (by the way, he also has a riding, four seam fastball that is thrown high in the zone or above the strike zone) because the angle of descent on the ball is so steep. This is an extremely unusual ability and one that, combined with his intelligence, poise and ability to mix pitches, suggests to me that he can be a solid pitcher in the rotation. Not a star, but a really nice number 3 or 4 guy. The type of pitcher who, silently, helps win his team a pennant.

    But, man, does he ever deserve credit for holding things down while they were jerking him back and forth between AAA and the majors He never lost sight of the goal and just took things one game at a time. His time has come, and not a moment too soon.

    Quick question – is he ineligible for the playoff?

    Another quick question – not that it is relevant to this blog, but has anyone noticed how dramatically Ryan Madson has improved recently? His stuff is so much better than it was in prior years and even earlier this year – he regularly sits at 94-96 MPH and he can now challenge hitters with high fastballs that move like crazy. Aside from Lidge, you could make a pretty good argument that he has the best pure stuff on the pitching staff and it’s been a lot of fun watching him evolve.

  14. 1-pitch, 2-pitch, 5-pitch…the most important thing is location. kendrick lost his ability to hit his spots and then lost his confidence. as long as happ hits his spots, he is going to be fine. when he misses he is going to get crushed. i saw a pitcher come in for the mets last night and routinely throw 93-94. he missed his spots a few times and got hit hard.

    glad to see happ is getting it done!

  15. Catch 22 I have seen Ryan Madson improve alot. Two years ago, when he gets put into the game I had a sigh. Now, I’m glad. His fastball is very impressive; it has this late movement to it that misses bats. He has pitched himself into the 8th inning role. Wooo! someone I can trust in the 8th inning. Sorry PP about talking about someone other than Happ or Kendrick, I was just responding to a comment.

  16. Congratulations to Happ. I strongly agree with those who say he’s a candidate for the 5th spot in the rotation for next season. He has good poise, decent control, a bit of a deceptive delivery and seems to come up with good pitches when he needs them. He works well high and low and the high arm angle helps reduce flatness in the strike zone.

    Having said that, I strongly disagree with anyone projecting him higher than #5 in a ML rotation until the good teams have a book on him and the best hitters have a handful of ABs against him. A lot can change over the course of a half-season. Just ask Kyle Kendrick.

    Kendrick will bounce back in my opinion and compete for the 5th starter spot. To echo the comments here, he’s going to have to adjust to the adjustments by developing another quality go-to pitch. His sinker is excellent and he’s an above average fielder who often saves himself with his glove. Until his latest struggles he showed great gamesmanship and poise; a little confidence will go a long way for him. I like his chances overall but he’ll have to work hard.

    The problem for 2009 is that both Happ and Kendrick aren’t ready to be in the same rotation since they’re both #5 starters at best. One of them will have to beat the other and Carlos Carrasco as well. Carrasco projects as a #5 at best for 2009 because he’s raw and inconsistent. In fact, he’s probably not going to be ready out of Spring Training but he has an outside chance to out-pitch both Happ and Kendrick and surprise everyone by making the staff.

    Personally I don’t like talking about any pitcher as a #3 starter unless he’s proven himself well above average at the ML level over two or three seasons. A #2 should be an ace in waiting and a #3 should be just a tick behind him. Look at Myers talent and experience and yet even he’s struggled to be a quality #3. Safe to say if Brett doesn’t bounce back and them some in he second half, the Phillies are on the outside looking in. I’ll concede that Myers can be a #2, albeit a less-than-iron-clad #2, which means the #3 starter has to be a cut above, more like a #2. Moyer has made a huge difference for the Phillies pitching like a #3. For next season, Moyer should be the #4 if only because of his age. Performance-wise, having Moyer match up against other #4s is a huge bonus. Blanton is a #4 at best, a cut below Moyer, but as a #5, he’d give you match-up advantages against most other league #5s. When stacking a starting rotation, unlike the economy, there actually is a trickle down effect.

    To build a winner you have to be stacked from the get-go with better starting pitching match-ups in at least 60% (3 out of 5) of your starts. As you get down to #4 and #5 starters, the hitters begin to even out the odds. Only a Big Three will do in my opinion. Too often a guy gets labeled a #3 because he’s the third best option or projects as a #3, not because he’s truly a legitimate #3. Therein lies all the difference.

    No three players on a baseball team are more important than your top three starters. What’s more, stacking your rotation is far easier than stacking your lineup. Thome and Howard can’t be on the same team, but any five aces can. Top starting pitchers are never blocked, they simply slot in ahead of other starters. Pitching is the name of the game and a Big Three insures against injury and takes the pressure off the bottom of the rotation and the bullpen at the same time.


    In the minors we’d have depth with Happ, Kendrick, Carrasco ready to fill in. That’s what I’d like to see, unless we deal Blanton as part of a package for a true #2, in which case we’d have the Happ, KK, CC battle for #5. Since most years teams use between 8 and 10 starters, all of them will likely get some starts even with Blanton on the team.

  17. Catch 22 – Regarding Madson’s jump in velocity, our highly esteemed assistant GM Ruben Amaro was asked this question on Daily News Live on Monday by Michael Barkaan. Ruben said because Madson was DL’d at the end of the last two seasons, they “pre-habbed” him this year.
    Don’t ask me what that means though.

  18. OK, REALLY going off the topic here (but all about prospects). Sorry PP, but I don’t know where a “non-contributor” like me tosses something new out. There was an interesting, and enjoyable to me as I hate the Yankees, article about the Yamkees not making the playoffs.


    Interesting read, and it is all about them having terrible drafts and sacrficing picks for free agents (sound familiar?).

    BUT, what was interesting was the charts at the bottom about how many games (for position players) and innings (for pitchers) each team has gotten from their drafts from 1997-2005. (I’m not 100% sure if it means the players played for the team that drafter them or not.)

    What was interestsing to me was the the Phils were 26th when it came to number of position players that made it to the big leaues, but jump all the way to 7th when you look at number of games (basically not as many good players but strong top end).

    On the pitchers it was 17th in numbr of pitchers that made it, and 16th in total innings (which to me isn’t as relevant as starters/relievers will skew that).

    I thought it was interesting on the position players – the rest of you may not care:) Thought it be an interesting discussion topic in this slow period for prospects…

  19. xfactor – sure, we would all love to have a pitcher who we could slot in as a number 2, moving Myers, Moyer, and Blanton down to 3, 4, and 5. But –

    (1) Getting a number 2 better than Myers is going to be prohibitively expensive. Starters of that quality are terribly overpriced as free agents. They arer almost never traded when cost controlled, and when they are, they cost a king’s ransom (we would have to give up one of our big 3 hitters, and a ton of prospects. This, alone, is reason enough why there is no way in hell that we are going to get a #2 pitcher for next season.

    (2) With Burrell leaving for free agency, the Phillies are goign to have to spend a ton of money to find a replacement for him. I think we can all agree that there isn’t anyone in the organization who can step in.

    (3) Some perspective people – even this year, with Myers ineffective for 1/2 the year, and two other season opening starters pitching ineffectively and losing their spots, the Phillies starters have a better than league average ERA (4.23 vs 4.43). Unless Moyer suffers a dramatic decline, a full year of the current rotation, with Kendrick or (more likely) Happ as the number 5 pitcher, is likely to be a little better next year.

    Our starting rotation isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough that, for the the first time in years, the Phillies probably won’t be looking outside the organization to upgrade it for next year. That’s especially true given the fact that, for the first time in a while, boosting the lineup in the off season looks like a priority.


    Michael Talyor is the 15th ranked prospect in the SAL league. I would have thought he’d be higher but I can only guess it’s due to the age/league thing… Here’s the write-up:

    Taylor attracts comparisons to Ryan Howard. Both were fifth-round picks of the Phillies, and Taylor has a similar build and raw power. No one is saying that Taylor is in the same class as a hitter at this point, but he put up better numbers in the SAL than Howard did at the same age, and Taylor is a better athlete as well.

    After hitting just .227 in his pro debut last year out of Stanford, Taylor had few difficulties at either of his two Class A stops in 2008, batting a combined .346/.412/.557. He drives the ball with his long arms and has quick wrists, which help overcome a swing that can get long on occasion. He also displayed impressive focus, maintaining his advanced approach throughout the season.

    Defensively, Taylor has a strong arm that could play in right field. He sees more time in left, however, because he’s still learning to get good jumps and take proper routes on flyballs.

  21. Very surprising. Maybe its just the ridiculous strength of the league but I can’t imagine he missed by much. I know he gained a ton of props from scouts throughout the year. Maybe the injury at the end hurt him?

  22. I would guess dominic brown would rank somewhere in the next 10- the article noted some thought it was a down year, but that was a pretty impressive list of 20 guys in my opinion.

  23. Everyone is assuming that Moyer will be back and I hope he is but he’s a free agent and its no certainty that he’ll be back here. The decision for the Phils may come down to Moyer, Happ or Kendrick with Jenkins and Werth starting in the OF vs Burrell and Werth but with and Happ AND Kendrick in the rotation. The money decision may be Moyer vs Pat.

  24. Catch 22 – great point on the poise of Happ after being bounced around. I think poise counts for a lot and guys who have a lot of talent can implode without poise (Vincente Padilla comes to mind).

    Yes, Happ is eligible for the postseason roster. I can find the link where the process is explained but since someone from the 25 man roster was on the 60 day DL (Gordon) he can essentially ‘replace’ Gordon on the postseason roster.

    I think people get too obsessed with the #1/#2/#3, etc. stuff. Go look at VORP (or whatever judge of overall quality you prefer) for this year or last for starting pitchers and count to #70 (30 teams x 2.5), that’s your average #3 starter. It’s shocking the names you’ll see around that #65-#75 range and you’ll probably reassess your feelings about what # a given starter is. I think it’s more applicable to consider if your guy is ‘front-line’ ‘middle rotation’ or ‘back end’.

    Hey, I did it for you, selected range of players, 2008, minimum 100 ininnings pitched:

    67. Jered Weaver
    68. Jason Marquis
    69. Randy Johnson
    70. Brett Myers – funny he shows up, product of a POOR start
    71. Oliver Perez
    72. Andrew Sonnanstine
    73. Doug Davis
    74. Wandy Rodriguez
    75. John Maine
    76. Aaron Harang
    77. Nick Blackburn
    78. Seth Mcclung
    79. Andy Pettitte
    80. Scott Olsen

  25. I think many people have said this before, but I am incredibly impressed with the way JA Happ pitched. Its very similar to Lou Marson whom also just looks like a big leaguer. I think that Happ has an edge over Kendrick is not only his length and deception, but its in addition to the fact that he is a lefty.

    I think that Kendrick this winter should work on a + change that was suggested by many people above and continue working on his sinker. A good sinker is great because it doesn’t MATTER if they know it is coming… THey are just going to GB it out.

    GB pitchers can really do well behind Rollins, Utley and Feliz. Which is why I think a Derek Lowe would do well in Philadelphia. I think Kendrick is no future Brandon Webb, but rather a future Lowe.

    For the rotation next year- Hamels-Myers-Moyer-Happ-Kenddrick-Blanton… There are a lot of mediocore options and I like the idea of competing for the five spot. I am assuming Hamels-Myers-Moyer-Blanton are locks for the rotation.

  26. I pointed out before that HAPP was hurt three separate times last year :before andafter he left the Phillies and later during a
    twenty inning no errand run streak. JOHN RUSSEL(good luck PITTSBURG) had to bring him out an extra inning. Two k’s
    and a walk and too many pitchs we rehurt his arm.
    So next year he probably will be in the 90’s
    As far as big park vs small park check READING where he allowed only two Hr’s
    NOTE FORGET THE BOOK A flyball pitch who keeps the ball in the park has the advantage because the ball is more likely to be caught then in a big park. That is common sense that Ed wade never caught onto

  27. and keeping the curve off the plate I do wonder how much moyer has helped already Especially with the manager who
    doesnt seemed to get pitching at all yet alone a guy like Happ
    who uses guile and high pitchs
    Major leaguers today cant hit high pitch like in the good ole days lol

  28. Murray,

    I certainly hope that you are wrong – because having to choose between a rotation without Moyer (or an equivalent replacement) and an outfield without Burrell (or an equivalent replacement) is scary. I’d probably have to pick the Phillies third in the division next year if that happens. The fall off from Burrell to Jenkins, or Moyer to Kendrick, is huge.

  29. RodeoJones, thanks for the research!

    However you want to say it, #1/#2/#3…or ‘front-line’ ‘middle rotation’ or ‘back end’, my point remains the same. It’s all about having superior starting pitcher match-ups and building a World Series worthy rotation from the top down.

    The idea that the rotation sets up as “good enough” is the kind of thinking hasn’t produced much in the way of rings in Philly.

    As for other priorities, frankly I think there are none higher than stacking the rotation by acquiring a top starter to go with Hamels and Myers as part of the Big Three. It would make Moyer and Blanton so much more effective in mismatches with other teams bottom starters, especially since the bullpen will have more rest.

    Then there’s the issue of depth. The rotation has been relatively injury free this season. I don’t expect the same going forward. Do you? That’s where Happ, Kendrick and Carrasco come in. They will get their share of starts either way, it just comes down to who they will match up against and how many starts they get.

    There’s no one guy the Phillies can get to create more mismatches, give greater depth and have a bigger impact on the whole team than another top starter in addition to re-signing Moyer. That’s my premise and I’m sticking to it!

  30. Xfactor – I agree 100% that a legit middle of the rotation starter would do wonders for this team next year but when you consider the cost of such a guy (Gil Meche – 5 yrs, $55 million for one) it just doesn’t seem like the best use of limited resources. I agree with Gillick its better to develop your own starters, it’s just that this system is short on them at the top levels. I think they’d be better off getting someone to replicate Burrell’s offensive numbers (even if it’s Pat himself) and stacking the bullpen by getting a legit set-up guy. Having a strong bullpen makes your starters look all the better as this year has shown. If a guy who routinely goes 6 innings (Moyer, Blanton) can leave and have a combination of Eyre (as a LOOGY), Romero, Madson, Lidge and another quality late inning guy or two behind them it basically shortens the game. Look at the Mets troubles this year, all bullpen related.

    No, this year was an anomaly on the number of starting pitchers that the team needed. Really, the only pitchers missing starts out of the opening day rotation were pulled due to ineffectiveness. That won’t happen again, no.

    I don’t want to get too far afield on this topic, and I have a feeling we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on the direction this teams takes in the offseason anyway. If the team was able to get a legit middle of the order guy in the offseason and hold Happ, Kendrick and Carrasco at AAA as fill-ins I would be ecstatic but I just don’t see it happening when there are other holes to be filled.

  31. RODEO there is one problem
    Sign a guy he pitchs no matter how badly (read EATON)
    At worse you can send a farm hand back and bring up another
    instead of waiting 10 losses to see a mistake
    e.g. LILY and Jason Marquis were the only two starters signed
    last year who made it to the playoffs

  32. If Happ was at 87-89 the phillies better get a starter this winter. He doesn’t have great breaking stuff .so second time around, he will be bang around he will be another kendrick. Braves I know saw him twice but they guit caring a month ago.

  33. My mistake the Phils have mistreated HAPP more then enough
    over the last two years. I just hope GILLICK doesnt stay. Next question with Myers back to the bad Myers is Happ on the postseason roster . Your thoughts please

  34. My thoughts? You have to keep Myers on the postseason roster if they make it to start game 2. They wouldn’t be where they are without his revival as a legit starter and you can’t bail on him now. Hopefully they can work it during his bullpen session but this reinforces that fact that they need Happ on the postseason roster to be ready to come in and pitch if one of the starters completely blows up and needs to be pulled before the 5th. I know they’ll want to carry an extra bench player, that’s fine, then carry Happ in Seanez’s place, no reason he can’t fill his role and offer insurance for a situation like I described.

  35. OK but Happ should at least be there in case Who knows
    CHARLIE might bail on him. I cant understand how guys get
    to the top in a business and are so clueless. 2008 has been the battle of WHO IS LESS STUPID

  36. btw Freeagent vs. Farmhands
    check last years freeagents few starter and the ones that were there went mostly in the tank taking lot of cast with them
    I go with CC next year as well as HAPP

  37. Furthermove it isnt much fun for fans watching a guy who doesnt deserve to be there when you know the only reason he is playing is money. “EATON” ETC

  38. Listen this is the one and only Big Cat and I just want to say best of luck to J Happ and Kyle Kendrick…I had the pleasure of getting to know both of these great pitchers in the minor leagues and JA was actually in my wedding and did a wonderful job as a groomsman…I look forward to meeting back with these guys in the big leagues two years from now.God Bless guys see you soon!

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