J.A. Happ Leads the American League in Wins Because of Course

Yes, wins are a flawed statistic, but Happ has been very good for the Blue Jays.

There was a time when a pitcher's win total was one of the more important statistics around. And, to be honest, the 20-win season is still something of a landmark for pitchers.

Chances are, if you've racked up 20 wins in a season, you've been a pretty darn good pitcher. But as baseball analysis has evolved over the last few years, we've come to understand that a pitcher's teammates have as much to do with whether a pitcher is credited with a win as anything. We've also learned that, sometimes, a pitcher doesn't have to do anything special to be given a win.

For example, in Philadelphia on Thursday, Giants reliever Sergio Romo was credited with a win for the team's 3-2 extra-inning triumph even though he didn't retire a single batter. He threw four pitches in the bottom of the 9th, on the last of which a baserunner, Cesar Hernandez, was thrown out trying to steal.

Nevertheless, a win's a win, and entering Friday's action, no pitcher in the American League had more of them than Toronto's J.A. Happ.

Right. Just like everyone predicted.

Through 22 starts this season, Happ has been downright terrific, going 15-3 with a 3.09 ERA and a fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 3.83 in 137 innings. He has struck out 7.69 batters per nine innings and walked 2.69 with opponents batting a mere .229 against him this season.

On Thursday he went 6 innings and gave up 1 earned run on 4 hits with 1 walk and 6 strikeouts, the 12th time in 22 starts he had given up one earned run or less. And he's been doing this for more than a full year now.

Over the last calendar year, he is tied for 12th among qualified starters in fWAR (4.5) with Max Scherzer. His 2.57 ERA during that time is 5th -- behind only Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner and Stephen Strasburg -- and his opponents' batting average against (.220) is 11th.

The deceptive left-hander has done a solid job this year of getting out both lefties and righties.

Vs. L 24 1/3 .233 .313 .364 .298 15.0% 9.0% 1.23
Vs. R 112 1/3 .228 .288 .380 .291 22.6% 7.1% 1.13

In fact, as you can see above, Happ has actually been a bit more effective against right-handed hitters than left-handed hitters this year, although throughout his career, he's handled both with about the same effectiveness.

The key for Happ is simple. He's throwing his fastball as hard as he ever has, and he's generating more movement on it than ever before. He throws his four-seamer nearly 71% of the time this year, with an average speed of 91.6 miles per hour, right along with his career average.

Happ's Four-Seam Velo

As you can see from the chart above, his velocity the last few years is much higher than it was at the start of his career, and he's maintained that velocity this season.

But check out the next chart.

Happ's Four-Seem Movement

His fastball is moving more horizontally than it ever has before, which keeps both left-handers and right-handers from squaring it up.

As Toronto considers putting Aaron Sanchez out of the rotation to limit his innings, the Blue Jays are going to need Happ to continue to pitch like a potential Cy Young candidate, something he's done for the last 12 months.

Just like everyone predicted.