James Anthony Happ is a quiet, unassuming 27-year old budding star. Don’t mistake that tranquil demeanor for weakness; the dude is an absolute force when he is on.
Happ was relentless throughout the entire 2009 season, going 12-4 with 2.93 ERA in 166 innings, while finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting in the National League behind Florida’s Chris Coughlan. It didn’t start off as a ROY-type season for Happ out of the gate as he was passed over for Chan Ho Park for the final rotation spot. Didn’t matter to him that he was placed in the bullpen, where, he too, excelled. The lanky left-hander patiently waited his turn and in turn was finally given a chance to start on May 23 in the Bronx. Chan Ho Park had used up all of his starting chips and Happ shined against the Yankees, never looking back.
His six-inning, two run performance was indicative of just how tough Happ would be for the remainder of the ’09 season. On June 27, the baseball community finally took notice as Happ tortured the Blue Jays in Toronto, tossing a complete game shutout, while fanning four batters. Consider it the defining moment for J.A.; it was his fifth consecutive victory, a streak that would stretch two more wins and nearly one more month.
Happ followed that up on a warm, August day against Colorado with yet another heart-stopping performance. It would be his second CG-SO of the season, but this time, he struck out 10 batters over 127 pitches. However, on the same day in the minor leagues, Pedro Martinez was readying for his seat at the starters table. Pedro one-upped Happ by striking out 11 batters in a start for Double-A Reading.
Luckily for Happ, he did not lose his starting spot outright until the playoffs due to Pedro’s September injury. Still, he was used as a reliever in the playoffs, where he pitched to mixed results. Happ allowed four earned runs over 6 1/3 innings (seven appearances) and never really settled into a groove as he had as a relief pitcher early in the year.
Aside from his average showing in the postseason, from start to finish, Happ proved to the organization and the people following it, that he has the necessary tools to be a very good major league starter. The Phillies brass pushed that point when they declined to trade Happ in a deadline deal for the uber-coveted Roy Halladay. Instead, Happ stayed put, the Phillies brought in Cliff Lee, and the team once again rallied to the Fall Classic. If not for Happ and his impressive emergence as a solid middle of the rotation pitcher, the Phillies may not have secured back-t0-back NL Pennants.
J.A. Happ was that good.
2009 numbers: 12-4, 2.93 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 119 K, 56 BB, 166 IP, 149 H, .244 BAA
GRADE: 8.4/10: Happ was outstanding, but not so much in the playoffs. Perhaps it was the back and forth between the pen and the rotation that caused a slow down in the postseason. Nevertheless, Happ will now be counted on for even bigger things in the future.