Last season was truly one to forget for J.A. Happ and most Astros’ fans who witnessed his starts throughout the first five months of the season. It just didn’t go well and it’s just better to forget it even happened. The problem is that Happ must remember what got him in that mess. He has been given specific tasks, be more aggressive and stop the unproductive nibbling. An aggressive Happ normally makes everyone happy but so far this spring, it’s been a bumpy ride. We’ve seen progress but some of the old issues have come back from time to time and results are evident, high pitch count and tons of hits. Even with his troubles, the Astros have awarded him a spot in the rotation and are sticking by their guy so now Happ must reward the ‘Stros patience in him.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not so sure why Happ has simply been given a spot in the rotation. He is coming off one of the worst seasons in all of baseball and his spring has been mediocre at best. J.A. does have a track record and the’ Stros could simply be hoping 2011 was an anaomle. His issues seem deeper than just to hope they go away and the Astros know that but also probably think Happ, being the veteran he is, understands what needs to be done. Happ is actually one of the veterans on the club now so that could be what is giving him some room for error. The issue for Happ is that he doesn’t figure to be part of the Astros long term future and so the motivation to start him might simply be a value thing. Hoping J.A. improves his performance and also improves his trade value, which any veteran on the Astros should keep in mind.
What is Happ’s trade value? At this moment, it’s marginal due to the most recent struggles but having a track record, pretty cheap and lefthanded does give him some trade value. Sending him to the pen, unlike with Brett Myers, would destroy whatever value the guy has left. Brett Myers’ experience and pitches, allowed him to move to the pen and realistically increase his value in some circles, Happ is different. He wouldn’t be the closer and he doesn’t have the pitches to succeed in that role anyway. That limits what the ‘Stros could do, besides sending him to the minors. So this may be a case of value rather than performance as to why he is guaranteed a spot. A good summer could help bring that value up much higher and in turn make a deal more appealing to Jeff Luhnow.
At this point, the best thing for an Astros’ fan to do concerning Happ is simply hope. Hope that the guy can rebound and get back to his former performance. It has always seemed there was a bit of luck involved when J.A. pitched, even with the Phillies, so an increase in BABIP against him last season sounds logical. The funny aspect of Happ is that when someone watches him pitch, there seems to be a perception that he is close. In other words, he looks the part but just doesn’t pitch the part. Happ was never supposed to be the ace of the rotation but expectations were still high and those have not come close to being met.