Happ in Houston

by Eno Sarris // 

J.A. Happ (pronounced ‘Jay’) is headed south as the centerpiece of the Roy Oswalt deal. Should fantasy owners be interested in the player who is available in 62% of Yahoo leagues?

Judging solely based on ERA, the answer would be in the affirmative. Happ has a 1.73 ERA so far this year, put up a 2.93 ERA last year, and sports a 3.11 ERA for his career. Check, check and check, right? Not so fast – and judging from his availability, it seems most fantasy players these days are savvy to the limitations of ERA for predicting future ERA.

Looking at Happ’s underlying statistics, there are plenty of reasons to worry about him in Houston. Just a peek at his 2010 strikeout rate (5.28 K/9) and walk rate (7.04 BB/9) alone should send the proverbial shiver down the spine. Happ has had some trouble finding the strike zone all year, as he walked 4.1 per nine on his rehab stint too. Granted, he’s pitched only 15.1 innings this year.

Then again, this wildness is not typical of Happ’s career to date, and we also know that walk rates take a while to stabilize (550 batters faced). Happ’s career walk rate is 3.48 BB/9, which is about average (3.33 BB/9 is average this year). The problem is more his lack of a great strikeout rate (6.59 K/9 career, MLB average is 7.03 K/9 this year) or groundball rate (36.5% career, 44% is league average). This package adds up to a mediocre career xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching, a number that strips out batted ball luck, home run luck and other factors, and produces a number on the ERA scale) of 4.65. Happ did put up a 9.2 K/9 in the minor leagues, but until he shows an improved number in that category in the major leagues, we’ll have to go with what we see.

Some analysts might talk about Happ’s move to Minute Maid Park as a reason to avoid the pitcher – and the park does boost home runs for lefties 6% and righties 18% – but that move will actually be a positive one for him. The Phillies’ home park boosts home runs 16% for lefties, and 22% for righties.

Really, given the fact that he’s got an average walk rate and below-average strikeout and groundball rates, there is limited upside for Happ, despite his pristine career ERA to date.
HappGrab.jpg You might even call the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools projection on the right (3.82 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) a rosy scenario for his future. He’s best left on the wire in standard mixed leagues.

For more on other trade deadline movers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

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