The value of James Anthony Happ

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher J.A. Happ throws in the second inning of a baseball game with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sunday, July 12, 2009, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)Who am I?  I am 6-0 this season with a 2.90 ERA.  In 87 innings of work, I’ve only given up 70 hits and have a miniscule WHIP of 1.17.  My quality start percentage is on par with elite throwers like Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe, Matt Cain, and, yes, even Johan Santana.  Opponents are hitting just .226 against me, again better than those other guys.  Am I Josh Johnson? Ted Lilly?  Roy Oswalt?

The answer to the questions above is one James Anthony Happ.  J.A. Happ is not a veteran that has been invited to several All-Star games, been thought of as a Cy Young candidate, or been praised as the best young pitcher in baseball. By the way he’s pitching this year, you might think he was all of the above.

Happ is turning in a spectacular campaign – one filled with demotions and promotions – and at a time when the Phillies need it the most.

Over the past few weeks, Happ has been a hot commodity on the trade market.  His name has been mentioned numerous times in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes, for better or worse. The fans in this town have varying opinions on the 6’6” lefty, but one thing is certain; he’s pitching like he belongs.

Any biased Phillies fan will tell you he’s an ace-in-waiting, a cosmic explosion about to turn into a bright star.  There’s nothing wrong with that statement, either.  In his short duration as a member of the staff, Happ has proven to be a winner and a gamer.  Still, it’s hard to figure out his exact value.

Happ has been likened to the former savior of the staff, Kyle Kendrick.  When K.K. burst onto the scene back in 2007, expectations were tempered.  He’d never been above Double-A and his numbers were never extraordinary, but like Happ, they were steady. Kendrick seemed to get by on luck rather than skill, and his wins were the result of a powerful offense.  His velocity was never his strong suit, and his breaking stuff was, non-existent.

There doesn’t seem to be a problem with Happ’s repertoire.  His strikeout numbers are, and have been, much better than Kendrick’s throughout his career.  Happ’s fastball is a few notches higher on the gun, and his off-speed pitches are sometimes lethal.  Let’s put that comparison to rest.

During the Futures Game at All-Star weekend in St. Louis, an NL scout told’s Jerry Crasnick “He’s pretty good.  But from the way everybody in Philly talks, you’d think he was the second coming of Steve Carlton.”  Indeed, it’s premature to link Happ to a Phillies legend, but the early numbers do resonate with “Lefty.”  Through 10 starts in his first full season, Carlton went 5-4 with a 3.63 ERA.  He averaged a hit per inning and struck out 54.

Happ is right there with him through 10 starts.  The young left-hander is 4-0 as part of the rotation, giving up 54 hits in 65 1/3 innings, while striking out 44.  It’s safe to say the short career of J.A. Happ is more Carlton than Kendrick up to this point.

That’s not to say it will remain that way. However, based on the numbers and by what we’ve seen in the early stages, it’s safe to presume Happ to be a number three, or even a number two, starter.  He doesn’t quite have the makeup to be an ace, but he is far from a back-end hopeful.  For now, the prospects are intriguing. And in no way does it insinuate Happ is Carlton reincarnated.  He is simply dealing right now, so lets give credit where credit is due.

In a trade, especially one that involves a certain Toronto Blue Jay, Happ is looked at as an above-average prospect. Presently, his value is much higher in Philadelphia than it may be anywhere else.  His demeanor, his composure, and his perseverance all make him a fan favorite.  Happ has proven he can hold his own in a tough market like Philly, and his downright filthy road splits prove he can handle any atmosphere. Plus, with Cole Hamels struggling, J.A. is rising to the challenege.

Who is J.A. Happ?  He’s a damn good pitcher.

Happ’s next start is Sunday at Florida.

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