James Anthony Happ is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum. The big lefty was acquired, along with Jonathan Villar and Anthony Gose, in exchange for Roy Oswalt at the 2010 trade deadline. Happ was supposed to become a fixture in the Astros rotation, but a horrendous start to the 2011 season resulted in a demotion to AAA.
After making three starts at Oklahoma City, Happ returned to the Astros and looked to be back on track. The demotion may have served as a wake up call for J.A. Spending time with minor league pitching guru Burt Hooton must have been good for Happ. Still, I have my concerns. With a fastball that tops out around 90 mph Happ is far from overpowering. His propensity to pitch high in the strike zone coupled with his lack of velocity is not exactly a formula for success.
Walks have always been an issue for Happ as well. He has posted a 4.8 BB/9 IP in each of the last two seasons. I don’t think control is really the issue here. I think Happ is just trying to to get batters to chase pitches that are off the plate. It makes perfect sense. Happ’s arsenal would suggest that he needs to stay out of the hitter’s happy zone to be effective. Keeping the ball down might be a good place to start.
I was pretty excited about Happ when he first joined the club, and expected him to have a solid season in 2011. But after seeing him take the mound every fifth day and consistently struggle, I have come to the conclusion that Happ needs a pitching makeover. Learning to become a crafty left-hander at the age of 29 is not what I would have envisioned for Happ. But it looks like that has become a reality. Happ is a gutty performer with a tremendous desire to win, so I’m not ready to give up on him yet. Hopefully J.A. can see the writing on the wall and dedicate himself to improving. Happ figures to find a home at the back of the Astros rotation in 2012. But if he continues to struggle, his time in Houston could become short-lived.