Archive for December, 2014

Does J.A. Happ Help? I Guess We Will Find Out

Michael Saunders is not a star. He was never supposed to be a star. His best year was in 2012 when he accumulated 2.1 fWAR in 139 games with a .247/.306/.432 slash and 108 wRC+. In 2014, Michael Saunders played in just 78 games, but accumulated 1.9 WAR, an above average walk rate, a slash of .273/.341/.450 and a 126 wRC+. Michael Saunders is in the thick of his prime, and if he can stay healthy, the Blue Jays have a player that could blow past his 2015 Steamer projection of 2.4 WAR.

Saunders was a useful player from 2012-2014 and projects to be useful in 2015. For a team that projects to be in the playoff hunt once again, trading Saunders for J.A. Happ does not make much sense in a vacuum.

Of course, this trade cannot be evaluated in a vacuum. None of us know for sure what happened to ruin the relationship between Saunders and the Mariners. Whatever it was, he is now a Toronto Blue Jay. For whatever its worth, he did this in 2012 against the Blue Jays:

 

Now he gets to do it in a home uniform.


 

The problem for the Blue Jays, of course, is the health of Saunders. This was apparently one of the reasons Saunders fell out of favor with the Mariners front office and Manager Lloyd McClendon. A couple revealing quotes from an October article from Adam Lewis at MLB.com:

“I’d love for him to be out there,” McClendon said. “He’s got to get in the weight room.”

AND

“I think his numbers tell you that he is [a starting right fielder]. But the problem is he’s not out there every day,” McClendon said. “There’s no better joy for a manager than to be able to write a name into the lineup every day. But when a guy is on the DL, it’s tough. It throws everything out of whack.”

McClendon and the Mariners are now rid of a guy who is not an “everyday player.” They now have J.A. Happ. Happ is 32 years old. For some reason I thought he was 28. Some age younger than 32 at least. That probably would not have affected this trade anyway. What does affect the evaluation of this trade is the fact that Happ is owed $6.7 million this year. Yikes. Saunders outperformed him every season from 2012-2014 and is owed $2.3 million. It is still possible that the Blue Jays may pay for some of Happ’s contract, but Happ is certainly not worth almost three times as much as Saunders.

Do the Mariners truly trust this potential outfield alignment?

LF Dustin Ackley

CF Austin Jackson

RF James Jones/Stefen Romero/Nelson Cruz (Apparently for 25% of the time)

No, they probably have more moves left in them. Perhaps a trade for one Yoenis Cespedes. Michael Saunders is a good trade chip to dangle in a package for the potentially righty-skewed Red Sox lineup.

Oh, wait. Saunders is gone now. Hmmm.

Perhaps Melky Cabrera? The dude rakes! Look it what he has done when he has done from 2012-2014:

.305/.339/.470, 118 wRC+, 3.7 WAR

.346/.390/.516, 151 wRC+, 4.5 WAR

.279/.322/.360, 86 wRC+, -0.9 WAR

.301/.351/.458, 125 wRC+, 2.6 WAR

2013 has to be considered an outlier. Especially since he had a TUMOR ON HIS SPINE during the season. I will hypothesize that the tumor may have been an obstacle for Melky.

Except the Mariners just signed Nelson Cruz to a deal that brings the Mariners payroll that could approach $110 million. Will they be willing to shell out more money? Apparently so:

Cruz is a clear win-now move, especially considering the seemingly inevitable downside of the final two years in the deal. If the Mariners want to win, spending even more money may certainly be on the table. It is not like the Mariners or any other MLB team can genuinely cry poor (the Mariners definitely included). Melky has also suspended for PED use in the past, so a Melky and Cruz free agent cocktail seems nothing but natural.

But Saunders could have been useful in improving the lineup, either by his presence or as an asset in a trade. Now he is gone, for a player that costs more money and has been worse for three years in a row. It feels strange.


 

J.A. Happ has an unfortunate internet problem. When you Google his name, the awful video of him taking a line drive to the head in 2013 appears frequently. Luckily for Happ, Happ’s family, and Happ enthusiasts, he showed no ill-effects from the head injury during the 2014 season. Let us take a look at J.A. Happ statistics from 2012-2014:

2012: 28 G, 24 GS, 144.2 IP, 4.79, 4.01, 3.92, 1.8 fWAR

2013: 18 G, 18 GS, 92.2 IP, 4.56, 4.31, 4.82, 1.2 fWAR

2014: 30 G, 26 GS, 158.0 IP, 4.22, 4.27, 3.95, 1.3 fWAR

J.A. Happ has a career ERA- of 106 and a career FIP- of 109. Last season, J.A. Happ posted a ERA- of 107 and a FIP- of 109. In other words, J.A. Happ was his normal self. He showed no ill-effects from the injury, but that means he was still a slightly below average major league starter. Happ has shown a propensity to induce fly balls (40.6% in 2014, 38.2% career. 40.6% would have tied for 12th in MLB in 2014 if he had hit the innings minimum). At the top of the fly ball % leaderboards for the 2014 season was tall Chris Young (Holy crap he beat the second place starting pitcher by 10%). Hey! Tall Chris Young provided some value in Safeco Field. Perhaps Happ can as well?

Happ most likely will. If nothing else, Happ has been consistently, slightly below average. He has never pitched more than 166 innings, so the Mariners are not getting a workhorse, but they are not getting a disaster. The need for rotation depth was there. This seems to be the projection for the rotation at the moment:

Felix Hernandez

Hisashi Iwakuma

James Paxton

J.A. Happ

Roenis Elias/Taijuan Walker

-TBD

Was Happ worth it? No. But a Saunders trade was inevitable, so here we are. The Mariners have not improved the team, but the offseason portends more moves too. The outfield need is now more dire, but the rotation depth has been slightly bolstered. Maybe an outfield platoon is in order as well. The trade is not a sad, but it is not necessarily J.A. Happy either (yeesh. Time to end the post)

The truly big question is: What are the odds that Happ’s Safeco music will be “Happy” by Pharrell?