Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happ Continues to Make His Case for Rookie of the Year

Pirates vs. Phillies
In major league baseball, it is rare to find a rookie as the most consistent pitcher on a team. A strong case can be made that J.A. Happ fills that bill for the Phillies (if Cliff Lee is excluded, of course, due to his short tenure.) Except for one April outing, Scott Eyre has been terrific all season long, but due to his role as a situational lefty out of the bullpen, I would lean towards the rookie.

Although it is surprising that a rookie could find such consistency in performance versus veterans who "have been there and done that," it is a lot more understandable when you have had opportunities to observe Happ over a period of time. He possesses a temperament that exudes veteran savvy. He remains calm, and poised regardless of the situation, but seems to intensify his focus further when he gets into trouble on the mound.

This trait is evidenced by his numbers. Opposing batters are hitting only .185 against him with runners on base and it gets more difficult from there. Happ has limited hitters to a .125 average with runners in scoring position and a paltry .075 average when there are two out. Of course, the simplest indicators might be that his record stands at 10-2 with a 2.59 ERA.

Overall, Happ's approach is very similar to that of new teammate Cliff Lee. They both attack the strike zone with lots of fastballs, choosing to work ahead in the count. The presence of the reigning American League Cy Young award winner should only serve to further Happ's development, especially as he builds more confidence in his breaking ball and change-up.

As he takes the mound tonight, Happ would seem to be the front runner for National League Rookie of the Year. Considering his demeanor and approach, it is not hard to envision him continuing the success that he has achieved to this point. It remains to be seen how he will stack up against some solid competition for this honor when the final votes are tallied, but it is clear that the Phillies are very pleased and fortunate to have him in their starting rotation. He also seems to be gathering respect around the league as evidenced by the fact that he has finally become "Jay."

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