J.A. Happ To Red Sox? Evaluating Boston’s Rumored Interest In Free Agent

Happ has spent the last two-plus seasons with the Yankees

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Will the Red Sox make a splash this offseason? Boston has financial flexibility and a strong desire to bounce back from a disappointing 2020. As such, we’ll examine whether several notable free agents make sense (or don’t make sense) as the club looks to retool for 2021 and beyond.

J.A. Happ’s career path is all over the map.

The left-hander has worked extensively in both the American League and National League throughout his 14-year Major League Baseball journey, playing for six different teams and experiencing varying levels of success.

He finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009, lost 15 games with the Houston Astros in 2011, won 20 games with Toronto Blue Jays in 2016 and earned his first career All-Star Game selection at age 35 during a 2018 campaign in which he was traded to the New York Yankees.

Happ spent the last two-plus seasons in the Bronx but now is a free agent, as his $17 million contract option for 2021 didn’t vest. The option would’ve kicked in had Happ started 10 games or pitched 62 innings during the condensed 2020 season. Instead, he started nine games and finished with 49 1/3 innings pitched. Close but no cigar.

Might the Boston Red Sox be a fit for Happ as he continues his baseball odyssey? MLB Network’s Jon Paul Morosi reported Monday, citing sources, that Boston has shown interest in the veteran southpaw, so it’s certainly plausible.

Let’s examine the possible match.

Info
Position: Starting pitcher
Age: 38 (Oct. 19, 1982)
Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 205 pounds
Bats: Left
Throws: Left

2020 stats
Nine appearances (nine starts)
2-2 record, 3.47 ERA, 42 strikeouts
1.05 WHIP, 4.57 FIP, 7.7 K/9

Career stats
324 appearances (298 starts)
123-92 record, 3.98 ERA, 1,539 strikeouts
1.30 WHIP, 4.22 FIP, 8.0 K/9

Why Happ makes sense for Red Sox:
Not only is Happ familiar with the AL East, having pitched for both the Blue Jays and Yankees, he’s also very familiar with Fenway Park, throwing more innings at the venue than any ballpark he hasn’t called home. And, somewhat surprisingly, it’s been an accommodating environment.

Happ owns a 7-2 record with a 2.57 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 66 2/3 career regular-season innings at Fenway. That ERA is his second-best mark of the 18 ballparks in which he’s totaled at least 20 innings pitched.

Of course, this hardly guarantees future success, especially with Happ firmly in his late 30s. But it suggests he won’t be overwhelmed by the confines, a notable distinction given the complexity, on and off the field, of pitching in pressure-packed Boston.

Happ doesn’t overwhelm hitters. Nor does he pile up strikeouts. But he’s just three years removed from an All-Star nod, four years removed from finishing sixth in AL Cy Young voting and is a serviceable back-end starter in his current form.

He’s a low-cost alternative to the open market’s flashier arms and would be an adequate stopgap for a rebuilding Red Sox team desperately needing quality innings from the starting rotation in 2021.

Why Happ doesn’t make sense for Red Sox:
Although Happ has excelled at Fenway Park to this point in his career, there’s one troubling trend to consider: His home run rate (1.84 HR/9) over the past two seasons is the fourth-highest among 58 starters who’ve pitched at least 200 innings in that span.

His home run-to-flyball rate (18.3 percent) ranks 53rd. And his FIP (5.16) ranks 54th. So, there’s evidence to suggest he’s been rather lucky since the beginning of 2019 — outperforming his 4.57 ERA in that stretch — and that regression is forthcoming.

Happ might be especially susceptible given that he doesn’t miss many bats, evidenced by a strikeout rate (7.70 K/9) over the last two seasons that ranks 43rd and a hard-hit rate (37.7 percent) that ranks 42nd among the aforementioned group of 58 starters.

Verdict: Fit.

Prediction: Happ signs a one-year contract with the Seattle Mariners.

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

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