Clone Wars: J.A. Happ and Zach Duke

So J.A. Happ has stormed through his first 10 starts and won six of them with no losses. I know we discussed Zack Duke a few weeks ago, but the similarities between his 2005 season and Happ this year called for a revisit. I found Duke was headed down in the second half, but does Happ have the same prediction? Let’s take a look at their current seasons and find out.

                  IP      ERA        W       K       K/9      K/BB     HR/FB     BABIP     LOB%       xFIP
Zach Duke      126.0      3.29       8      65      4.64      2.03     8.60%     0.271    77.40%      4.48
J.A. Happ       87.0      2.90       6      61      6.31      1.91     9.40%     0.242    85.90%      4.78

Zach Duke

Not only was 2005 a great season for him, but his numbers did look very good. He had a K/BB of 2.52 in his first major league callup and although the 1.81 ERA was way over his head he had a xFIP of 3.66. It looked like he could have much better seasons ahead, but the strikeout rate was not for real. His K/9 dropped from 6.17 to 4.89, and his ERA ballooned to 4.47, 5.53 and 4.82 over the next three seasons.

What caused the drop in K/9 following 2005 season and his poor showings since then? In 2006, his fastball was almost 2 mph slower, resulting in batters swinging on 47.6 percent of his pitches to 43.9 percent of them. On top of this hitters improved their contact rate from 81.6 percent to 86.2 percent. Some of these rates have returned slightly, but this hasn’t brought his K/BB back to 2.5.

As far as fantasy goes his value is really low even when his ERA is down like this season. He still can’t strikeout anyone this season with a K/9 at 4.64, but is helped by a solid GB% of 45%. This has helped his BABIP, with the Pirates owning a top three UZR/150 among NL teams. Having strong defense will help his BABIP this season, but it won’t be enough to help him keep his ERA this low all year.

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MLB: JUN 20 Orioles at Phillies
June 20 2009: Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher J.A. Happ No. 43 during the game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies on June 20, 2009. The Orioles won 6-5 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Icon/SMI)

J.A. Happ

There has been a lot of excitement over Happ in his first 10 starts this season in Philadelphia. The numbers have been good in the minors, but so far his numbers this years point to a regression. His K/9 looks like a 2005 Duke at 6.31, but his BB/9 has always been around three in the minors.

Unless he can raise his K/9 in the second half there is going to be some regression for Happ this year. His pitches out of the zone right now are not fooling anyone. His O-Swing% of 18.6% is lower than any starter with more than 80 innings pitched. As long as that keeps up he will continue to keep a BB/9 over 3 and a K/BB around 2.

Looking at his splits so far this season you can see his ability to get lefties out (2.44 K/BB against lefties), but with a K/BB of 1.70 against righties he would make a good play against lineups heavy with left handers. He was never seen as anything more than a back of the rotation starter while he was progressing through the minors. Unless he can get more righties out his stuff will limit him to that or back to the bullpen. Perhaps he could even end up in a LOOGY role, which would end his fantasy relevance.

Conclusion

Happ has caught the attention of many with the 6-0 record so far, but his numbers don’t back it up. His 2.90 ERA is sure to rise and at a xFIP of 4.78 he could really hurt your team in the second half. Duke is a little tougher to deal with since he has a track record, but you could still try to move him. Neither should be given away, but with the trade deadline looming in many leagues you could move them for solid value.

If I had to pick one of these two I would go with Happ for 2009 and even beyond. He has a much better team and a better strikeout rate. There is some concern though as his flyball rate is high at 47 percent and his home park is going to let more than the current 9.4 HR/FB. Long term though neither can do anything like this continuously. Expect both to go higher in 2010 drafts and not be worth the value for their owners.

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