Stats & Info: J.A. Happ

April showers have brought May flowers for Jay Bruce.

Jay Bruce
The Cincinnati Reds slugger Sunday hit his National League-leading 15th home run of the season and his 11th homer in May, which ties Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays for the most during the month this season.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 11 home runs in May are the most by a Reds player in a single calendar month since Adam Dunn hit 12 in July 2008.

Bruce ended the month of April struggling with four home runs, 11 RBI and a .237 batting average, which ranked 135th in MLB among players with at least 75 plate appearances.

This month has seen a completely different story. He’s hitting .330 with 11 HR and 29 RBI. In his previous two years in May, Bruce had just a .239 batting average with 12 homers and 30 RBI over 57 games.

So what’s been the difference? According to Inside Edge, Bruce is getting aggressive and taking advantage of fastballs. In the month of April, Bruce had a slugging percentage of .364 on at-bats that ended on the first pitch. That is up to .778 this month.

On at-bats that ended on the fastball, Bruce hit .254 during the month of April. That was below the MLB average of .285 in the situation. This month, he’s increased that to .344 and his slugging percentage is at .889.

But Bruce wasn’t the only “Jay” that had a strong Sunday.

• The Toronto Blue Jays scored 13 runs, including a six-run first inning as they clubbed the White Sox 13-4.

• Ricky Romero got the win for the Blue Jays as he allowed two runs over seven innings. According to Baseball Reference, his nickname is “RR Cool Jay”, like the rapper and entertainer “LL Cool J.”

• J.A. Happ (pronounced “Jay") did not allow a hit until the fifth inning for the Houston Astros. He also hit his first career home run.

• Jayson Werth of the Washington Nationals had three hits, but he was left stranded in scoring position in the eighth inning as the potential go-ahead run.

• J.J. Hardy of the Baltimore Orioles had a pair of hits, including a double.

• Jay Gibbons of the Los Angeles Dodgers had three hits. He entered Sunday with a .190 batting average and eight total hits for the season.

• Jon Jay of the St. Louis Cardinals and John Jaso of the Tampa Bay Rays each hit their eighth career home run. Alphabetically, those two are next to each other on the active player list. It was the first time they've gone deep on the same day.

Astros leaning heavily on starters

March, 17, 2011
The Houston Astros had one of the worst offenses in baseball last season, scoring just 3.8 runs per game en route to a fourth place finish in the NL Central. So just imagine how bad they would have been without a pitching staff that ranked sixth in the National League in ERA and opponent batting average after the All-Star Break.

The Astros’ lack of offense is expected to leave them out of contention this year, but their pitching staff should at least keep them in games.

Houston lost 27 games last season where its starting pitcher went six or more innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs, the most of any team in baseball.

Some notes on the Astros’ rotation entering the 2011 season:

Brett Myers: Myers was incredibly durable last season going at least six full innings in all but his final start, when he fell one out shy of hitting that mark. The 32 straight starts of six or more innings pitched to begin a season were the most since Curt Schilling did so in all 35 of his starts in 2002. Myers’ 223 2/3 innings pitched were a career high, and fifth-most in the National League. He had a 15-start stretch from July 4 to mid-September where he went 8-1 with a 1.89 ERA and 4.3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Wandy Rodriguez: Last year Rodriguez regressed some from the ascent he made the previous 3 seasons. Wandy had improved by at least half-a-run in ERA for three straight years: from 5.64 in 2006, to 4.58 in 2007, to 3.54 in 2008, to a career-best 3.02 in 2009. Wear-and-tear on his left arm may be a concern for Houston this season. Rodriguez has pitched at least 195 innings each of the past two seasons, and has missed time this spring with arm trouble. According to Inside Edge, Rodriguez threw 1,165 curveballs last season, by far the most in all of baseball.

Bud Norris: One of the most remarkable statistics in Norris’ young career is how well he’s done against the St. Louis Cardinals. Norris is 5-1 with a 2.27 ERA in his career against the Redbirds, and 10-12 with a 5.41 ERA against everybody else. Norris’ inconsistency isn’t because of lack of stuff: he was sixth in the NL in strikeouts per 9 innings (9.25) among pitchers with at least 100 IP last season.

J.A. Happ: In eight of Happ’s 13 starts after being acquired in the Roy Oswalt deal, he went at least six innings while allowing two earned runs or fewer. Happ had an exceptional six-start stretch from late August into September: a 1.91 ERA, .218 opponent batting average, and K/BB ratio of nearly 3-to-1. One unique thing Happ did exceptionally well last season was battle after runners got on base – only 17.0 percent of runners to reach base scored against Happ, 7.0 percent better than the league average.
Roy Oswalt and J.A. Happ each debuted for his new team on Friday night. Oswalt struggled against the Nationals, allowing five runs (four earned) in six innings as the Phillies lost 8-1. Happ was much more effective against the Brewers, allowing just two hits in six innings as the Astros won 5-0.

Oswalt's curveball is normally his out pitch, but in his first start for the Phillies it wasn't as effective as normal.
  • Allowed two extra base hits against the curve (had only allowed two all season).
  • Had no strikeouts with the curve for just the 3rd time this season.

  • On the other hand, Happ put up some of the better numbers in his career in his first start for the Astros.
  • Brewers missed on one-third of their swings, a career-high for Happ.
  • Recorded season highs with six strikeouts, 13 swing-and-misses and 12 swings on pitches outside the zone.
  • Allowed no hits in 10 at-bats ending with a fastball.

  • Will things get better for Oswalt down the stretch? He has struggled greatly against the NL East during the 2010 season. In seven starts against the other four teams in the division, Oswalt has gone 0-4 with a 5.93 ERA while allowing opponents to hit .328.

    Rapid reaction: What Jason Kubel has in common with Babe Ruth

    April, 12, 2010
    PM ET
    The last time the Red Sox opened a new ballpark, John Phillip Sousa’s marching band opened the festivities at Yankee Stadium and Babe Ruth christened his new home with a home run.

    This time around, the Red Sox were victimized by Jason Kubel in Target Field’s debut. The result was the same: a three-run loss.

    * Albert Pujols, through seven games, has outslugged the Astros lineup by himself. He has more home runs and RBI than all the Astros hitters combined.

    * And speaking of the Astros, let’s show them some pity. Of the starting pitchers they’ve faced so far, three got Cy Young votes as recently as last year. That trio of Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay and Adam Wainwright, have combined for 24 innings pitched without allowing an earned run.

    One2Watch4: J.A. Happ

    March, 30, 2010
    AM ET
    As the Philadelphia Phillies prepare for a run to a third consecutive World Series, they enter 2010 as the favorites in the National League. But they are far from a sure thing, with questions up and down the pitching staff. In the offseason the Phils acquired former Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay to front their rotation, and expect a bounceback season from 2008 postseason MVP Cole Hamels.

    But it’s 28-year-old lefthander J.A. Happ who is the One2Watch4 in Philadelphia this season.

    Happ went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA after forcing his way into the rotation at the end of May, and the Phightin’ Phils need something close to a repeat performance if they plan to be playing in October. Phillies fans shouldn’t hold their breath though, as Happ should have a more pedestrian season in 2010.

    Last season, among pitchers with at least 140 innings pitched, he led the league in LOB% -- the percentage of baserunners he stranded -- by a wide margin. He was one of just three pitchers with a mark over 80%, when the league average was 71.9%. Happ stranded 85.2% of his runners – and the gap between 1st and 2nd was as large as the gap between 2nd and 11th. Expect that number to drop, and likely by a significant amount.

    On top of that, Happ had an unusually low BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .270, the fifth-lowest mark in the league (min. 140 IP). The league average was .303, and pitchers who came in above that include NL wins leader Adam Wainwright and AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. In addition, Happ struck out fewer than 6.5 batters per nine innings, which will need to increase to keep both his LOB% and his BABIP steady this year.

    Lastly, Happ led the league (min. 140 IP) by a huge margin in FIP minus ERA – the difference between his Fielding Independent Pitching and his actual Earned Run Average. FIP helps to determine how well a pitcher pitched, regardless of the defense behind him. Happ’s FIP was 4.33 while his ERA was just 2.93, a difference of nearly a run and a half! Kevin Millwood’s difference was 1.13, and only two other pitchers had their FIP more than a run higher than their ERA.

    If J.A. Happ can keep his LOB%, BABIP and FIP minus ERA near their 2009 levels, the Phillies should cruise to a fourth straight NL East title. If Happ regresses to the mean in 2010, the Phillies will need the NL bump from Roy Halladay, a return to form (and regression to the mean) from Cole Hamels, and the right combination of starts from Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick to make their return to October baseball.

    And that makes J.A. Happ One2Watch4.