The case for J.A. Happ to pitch the A.L. Wild Card game

It doesn’t feel too long ago that Luis Severino was beyond the obvious choice of starting Yankees pitcher in a hypothetical American League Wild Card one-game playoff.
Photo Credit: Howard Simmons/TNS
But the Severino of late, save for September 12th against the Twins (while the Yankees lost, Severino pitched well), is no longer an obvious choice -- especially as the Yanks inch even closer to that very real possibility of déjà vu, yet another Wild Card game. And let’s not forget Severino’s performance in the 2017 episode of this saga, in which he gave up three runs in less than one inning pitched.

With Severino’s recent inconsistent outings, and his history with this particular game, it’s reasonable that Aaron Boone will look to one of his other available starters to head to the hill for the Wild Card game. And if the regular season ended today, the Yankees would be facing a recent opponent: the red-hot, 89-57 Oakland Athletics, in the infamous one game playoff.

So, who is the logical starting pitcher choice for the most important game the Yankees will face in 2018? An argument can be made to start Yankees newcomer J.A. Happ.

Happ carries an impressive 3.75 ERA on the season, both with the Toronto Blue Jays and the Yankees. His record is 16-6, with 173 Ks and a 1.13 WHIP. He’s allowed just one run in 12 September innings. And, when looking at Happ’s last ten starts, eight of them have resulted in wins, and he wasn’t charged with the loss in the other two. One would presume that Boone would want to start a pitcher who is on a hot streak going into October, and if the regular season ended today, Happ would certainly fit that bill. With less than 20 games remaining in the regular season, it’s safe to say this streak could continue.
Photo Credit: Mike Stobe/Getty Images
The stats speak to Happ’s talent as well as his consistency. But, they don’t cover big game, postseason situations. So, how does Happ measure up on the postseason stage?

Happ has recorded three postseason appearances: two with the Philadelphia Phillies, in 2008 and 2009; and one with the Blue Jays in 2016. While he’s played in a total of 10 postseason games over those three years, he only started three of the 10 games. And as such, his record in postseason appearances is small: 1-1. However, his lifetime postseason ERA and WHIP closely match up to his 2018 season stats -- 3.72 and 1.81, respectively. In addition, he has recorded 19 Ks, and allowed 25 hits over 19.1 IP. While 25 hits sounds like a lot, 13 of those 25 hits were recorded in 2016 alone, in which Happ pitched 10 postseason innings. In his two previous postseason appearances prior to 2016, he appeared in a combined 9.1 IP, a total that is less than 2016 alone.

Overall, Happ has postseason experience, and even if not exemplary when compared to his regular season stats, it’s consistent and reliable. Boone would likely see the same Happ on the mound during the Wild Card game that he would in any regular season game. He doesn’t necessarily pitch better during the playoffs, but he certainly doesn’t pitch worse… not like a certain inconsistent ace during the 2017 Wild Card game who will not be named.

However, since the Athletics are almost tied with the Yankees in the Wild Card race, it’s also important to look at how Happ has fared against the Athletics in the regular season.
Photo Credit: Paul J Bereswill
Unfortunately, there isn’t much to go on -- Happ only faced the Athletics once this season, not even facing them prior to his acquisition by the Yankees at the trade deadline. Despite that fact, the Athletics of September 4th will very likely resemble the Athletics that the Yankees will probably face come October. And Happ fared well against that team. While he wasn’t awarded the win, he was also not charged with the loss. He kept the Athletics’ bats quiet, allowing just two hits and one run over 6.0 IP. He also recorded five Ks, and the Yankees emerged victorious, an outcome that was no doubt helped by Happ keeping the run deficit to a minimum -- especially considering how quiet the Yankees’ offense has appeared of late.

Speaking of the offense… another consideration for Boone when making his Wild Card starting pitcher decision should be offense support. So, how has the Yankees offense, albeit quiet of late, performed with Happ on the hill?

Happ has recorded eight Yankee starts since his acquisition in July. Six of those starts resulted in wins for Happ, and of the remaining two starts (one of which was the start against the Athletics), neither resulted in a loss for the left-hander, and only one resulted in a loss for the Yankees. In those seven wins, the offense took the lead by three or more runs. And in two of those wins, the Yankees won by scores of 10-2 against the Blue Jays on August 19th, and 10-3 against the Baltimore Orioles on August 25th. And even in the one Happ start that the Yankees did not win, the loss was an 8-7 affair (which makes no difference in the standings, but makes a difference in a conversation about offense). Clearly, the offense supports Happ -- and perhaps more importantly, the offense supports Happ on a consistent basis.

Between his consistent and respectable season stats, his postseason experience with stats that are consistent with regular season stats, the knowledge that he can keep the Athletics’ bats quiet if called upon to do so and his record of offensive support, Happ would be a very reliable choice to start the A.L. Wild Card game. Happ is the same pitcher in every appearance, no matter the ballpark, no matter the stage, no matter the opposition. And consistency over flash in this do-or-die situation could very well be the order of the day for the Yankees.

Article by: Mary Grace Donaldson


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