Full disclosure: When the Jays signed J.A. Happ to a 3 year, $36 million contract, my first thoughts were “that’s a lot of money for someone who didn’t blow the doors off the last time he was in Toronto”. I definitely had my doubts. Then, when David Price went to the Red Sox and the Jays signed Fausto Carmona/ Roberto Hernandez, and Brad Penny – I really started to wonder what was happening. However, when Mike Leake, Jeff Samardzija, and Johnny Cueto signed contracts for a combined 55.7 million dollars per year – things started to come into focus. Starting pitchers make a LOT of money. This article by Chris Rinaldi shows just how much money a starter can make by just being average (Mike Leake). So, I wanted to look a bit further into the J.A. Happ deal, and see just what the Jays were getting for their money, and how it might influence their chances of competing for a second straight AL East title.
I’ve written before about the stuff metric (a measure of a pitcher’s velocity, change of velocity, and range of pitch movement, combined with pitching strategy), so I wanted to use stuff to see how J.A. compared against these other multi-millionaires. Of the four free agents, Happ has the second best stuff (0.53 ) – slightly better than league average (Table 1), with the Shark having the best stuff (0.67). Leake and Cueto were third and fourth, respectively (0.23, and 0.00). Happ had the best xFIP of the group at 3.69, compared to 3.78, 3.93, and 4.31, for Cueto, Leake and Samardzija, respectively. What might be the most exciting number of all however, is that Happ provided 3.3 WAR in 2015, which was second in this group, behind Cueto (4.1). While Johnny Cueto may be worth 0.8 WAR above Happ – he is worth that much at a cost of nearly $10 million more per season.
Finally, one thing I’ve been interested in presenting is how “stuff” ages. As you would expect if you’ve seen Jeff Zimmerman’s pitcher aging curves, velocity deteriorates with age – but so does stuff in general. If you’re signing a pitcher at around 30 years of age, you better not be doing it for his stuff, because it’s about to fall off a cliff. Take a look at how stuff has changed over the years for these 4 pitchers (Figure 1).
The moral of this story, is that J.A. Happ doesn’t have to be the Ace of the Toronto staff – but the salary that he is being paid is looking like a good deal compared to what some of the other free agents have signed for this off season. Would it have been nice to see David Price back in Toronto? For sure. J.A. Happ is going to do a great job for the Jays, and he puts them in a better financial position to resign Encarnacion and Bautista.
Chris Rinaldi – @simplybases
Jeff Zimmerman – @jeffwzimmerman