Thursday, September 16, 2010

J.A. Happ and Fangraphs

Yesterday, Jack Moore at Fangraphs wrote a negative piece about J.A. Happ after Happ's poor outing against the Brewers. Moore's piece was a fairly reasoned argument against Happ putting up the 2.78 ERA he had over his first 68 IP this season. However, the article generated more backlash than I've seen against a Fangraphs piece (non-Arizona immigration law division) in some time.

Most of the complaints were along the lines of the fact that Moore's post showed up an hour after Happ's bad outing and completely ignored the seven good outings that proceeded it. This is some of what I had to say:
I don’t necessarily disagree with Moore’s analysis, but I always find it amusing when one bad outing leads to a fast post like this while the previous seven great ones are ignored.

In those seven games, Happ’s peripherals obviously don’t support the 2.16 ERA and 1.007 WHIP he registered. However, he also struck out over 7 per nine IP, barely walked over three per 9, and kept the ball in the park (0.59 HR/9).

We often accuse the mainstream media of falling into a narrative, and rightfully so. However, we must also be careful that we don’t do the same thing in the other direction. I don’t recall anyone saying that Happ was going to be remotely close to Roy Oswalt in terms of ability, and it’s not fair to imply that this was ever a valid comparison.
As I said in my comment, Happ's 2.16 ERA and 1.007 WHIP aren't realistic expectations. But how good was Happ during that seven start run?

J.A. Happ's Seven Start Run: 8/10/10 - 9/10/10
8/106 1/3460
8/256 1/3241
Total45 2/3

As I suspected, Happ's FIP doesn't come close to matching his ERA over his tremendous seven start streak. With a 2.17 ERA, though, that is nearly impossible. The Major League leader in FIP this year - Francisco Liriano - has a 2.36 FIP.

Even Happ's FIP, though, tells us that he pitched very well during this streak. Five of Happ's seven starts during the streak saw him post an FIP of 3.43 or lower. That's really, really good. Out of the 93 Major League qualifiers this year, a 3.43 FIP over the course of a full season would tie Happ with Roy Oswalt and Jamie Garcia for 22nd in the Majors, or 14th in the National League. Another way of looking at this is that during this seven start streak, Happ pitched like a top #2 N.L. starter.

Am I saying that Happ is a potential #2 starter based on seven outings? Of course not, but my point regarding Moore's article stands. We need to delve deeper into the numbers when someone like Happ is doing well to see if his success is sustainable. The exceptions to the rule should fascinate us, not the 85-90% of pitchers who adhere to the norm.

In Happ, I see a pitcher who isn't as good as ERA indicates but I also see a pitcher who could turn a corner if he can cut the walks down by about one per nine IP and perhaps be a solid #2 or strong #3 MLB starter. This isn't wishcasting on my part, but rather me taking the same metrics that Moore is looking at and coming to a different conclusion.

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