Game 114, Blue Jays at Mariners
Aaron Harang vs. JA Happ, 12:40pm
JA Happ was activated off of the 60 day DL to make this start; you may remember the scary incident in Toronto when he was struck in the face by a Desmond Jennings line drive in May. That injury fractured his skull, and then to add injury to injury, he sprained his knee falling to the ground. The lefty made a few rehab starts for AAA Buffalo, and while he wasn’t terribly effective, he showed his stamina was mostly back (he threw 95 pitches in his last start).
Happ has one of the most distinctive fastballs in the big leagues. In 2011, he had the most vertical movement of anyone who pitched at least 100 innings. In 2012, he was #2, just a bit behind Clayton Kershaw. Unlike Kershaw or Josh Collmenter (#2 in 2011), Happ gets a more-or-less-normal amount of horizontal movement. This differentiates him a bit from the pure over-the-top guys, though to be fair, it doesn’t make the pitch particularly good either. He generates a few more whiffs than a 90-91mph fastball should, but the vertical movement means he gives up quite a few fly balls, and thus some home runs.
While a ton of vertical movement can occasionally negate platoon splits, Happ’s splits are pretty traditional. While his fastball’s generated exactly the same whiff percentage (8.92%) to both lefties and righties, righties get a few more HRs, and that’s enough to push his career FIP vs. righties a full run higher than his career FIP to lefties. So far this year (remember, that’s a tiny sample for him), he’s thrown quite a bit more sinkers (which have more v-mov than most anyone’s four-seamers, but do sink a bit compared to Happ’s four-seam), and a cutter to lefties and a change-up to righties. He’s also got a curve ball that he uses infrequently, in part because he struggles to keep it in the zone. The change-up/cutter actually generate some grounders, but he’s given up HRs and extra-base hits on them as well. In short, Happ’s a pretty good example for why DIPS and peripheral analysis exists. By FIP, he’s pretty much the same guy, year after year. FIP in the mid-4’s, decent number of Ks, few too many walks, average-ish HRs. BABIP swings (and the occasional HR spike) can make him look like a great #3 or a hanging-on-to-#5 starter by ERA.
To be fair, Aaron Harang’s another good example of this, as his BABIP and especially his HR/FB cause large swings in his ERA, while his FIP moves in a much narrower band.* But because HRs are such a driver of FIP, Harang’s career can really be broken into two halves – the first half (through 2007), when his FIP was always under 4, and the second half (2008-13) when his FIP’s generally been in the mid 4’s due to a persistent HR problem. Harang has probably pitched better than it seems like, and he may be a decent buy-very-very-low candidate for someone, but I’m pretty much done. The M’s looked to be swimming in pitching depth in March and then for a brief, shining moment in early July, but Paxton’s recent struggles and Hultzen’s second injury have eliminated much of it. The M’s will be looking for another Harang this off-season, whether it’s the actual Harang or someone else we’ll slowly grow to hate watching more than is strictly deserved.
1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Morse, RF
6: Saunders, CF
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Ackley, LF
9: Quintero, C
Victor Sanchez starts for Clinton today, with Trevor Miller getting the ball for Jackson.
* Yes, yes, that’s sort of the point of FIP. Not looking at BABIP/sequencing by definition produces a narrower range, and this helps reduce FIP’s error in predicting next year’s ERA. But still, some players see a lot more variance in their ERA than others – generally those hurlers who don’t rack up a ton of strikeouts and thus have more balls in play.